Content of implementation strategy

Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 9th February 2017.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 11:30 am, 9th February 2017

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 28, page 20, line 14, after “charges” insert

“, including any caps on these charges,”.

This requires members to be informed about caps on charges.

Good morning, Mr Rosindell. The amendment is straightforward: it would ensure that members are given accurate information, particularly where caps have been placed on the charges alluded to in the clause. As the Secretary of State has yet to determine costs and charges throughout a pension scheme—not just administration but investment and transaction costs—we have yet another delay in ensuring that scheme members are delivered the efficiencies that they deserve. We are also dependent on the Secretary of State bringing forward secondary legislation on the continuity strategy, which means yet more delay.

I am in danger of repeating myself, but scheme members really ought to get more information about the issues that affect their pensions. We have to start somewhere, and I maintain that the Bill remains a good place to do that. As I have said elsewhere, the Government support a cost-collection template in the local government pension scheme, which prompts the question: why do they not use that for master trusts instead of going down the road of yet more consultation?

I know from experience this week that the Minister is unlikely to be sympathetic to the amendment. Assuming that we are in that place again, what consultation is he planning with scheme members on the need for greater transparency and how they think they ought to be informed and given the opportunity to be active rather than passive scheme members?

The Secretary of State said last week:

“We plan to consult later in the year on the publication and onward disclosure of information about costs and charges to members. In addition to the Bill, other things are clearly required to give greater confidence in the pensions system.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 756.]

I had hoped that we could go some way to implementing at least some measures to help to fill the communication deficit, but now we will have to wait even longer. Trust members would have a little more confidence in this Government if they took this opportunity to take action on costs and charges and the need to share information about issues such as caps.

I conclude with a final question for the Minister. The review is under way. Is he satisfied that he will have the powers under the Bill or any other piece of legislation to accelerate the drive for greater transparency, or will we have to wait for another pensions Bill, which I understand is unlikely during this Parliament?

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

I can do no better than to echo the sentiments of the Opposition spokesman in welcoming you back to the Chair, Mr Rosindell, which is a pleasure indeed. I wish that I could accept the amendment with such enthusiasm—

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

—but we support the sentiments behind it. As with many things in the Bill, both sides want the same thing; the question is how things are achieved. The explanatory note to the amendment says that it

“requires members to be informed about caps on charges”,

which I understand, but the Government argue that that would duplicate provision elsewhere, so it is unnecessary.

I have said before that the Government agree with the principle that members should be able to see the costs and charges that affect their pension pot. Since April 2015, regulations have required trustees to report information about costs and charges in a chair’s statement, which must be shared with members, so that provision is there. Those regulations impose a charge cap where a scheme is used for automatic enrolment and contributions are invested in a default arrangement, as defined in the charges and governance regulations. To be clear, the cap is an annual one of 0.75%, or an equivalent combination charge, of the value of the member’s rights. That applies to master trusts in exactly the same way as it applies to other pension schemes.

The Government recognise that more needs to be done to increase transparency. We will be making regulations requiring charges and transaction costs for money purchase benefits in occupational pension schemes to be given to members and to be published. We have to get it right, and we are consulting. The hon. Member for Stockton North said that he thinks it is just another consultation, but it will happen this calendar year.

The purpose of the implementation strategy is for the Pensions Regulator to have scrutiny as part of the approval process.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

Before the Minister draws to a conclusion, I would be interested to know whether the regulations will outline exactly what chairs will be required to do to report on issues such as the cap.

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

Sorry—I was distracted when the hon. Gentleman asked his question.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I will repeat it; we all get distracted at times. Will regulations outline what will be required within a chair’s statement to ensure that such things as caps are properly reported on?

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

I will answer that question in the same way as I have up to now: the consultation is looking at the way to disclose. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking he seeks, but I fully expect that to be the case.

In answer to the other question, about whether the results of the consultation will require primary legislation, I can clearly say that they will not require another Bill. As to whether there will be another pensions Bill, the hon. Gentleman obviously has access to information on the Queen’s Speech that I do not have. I certainly do not think it is the position—it may be, but I do not think anyone knows at this stage.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment. That is not because I believe it is silly or anything, but because it is not needed. The charges in the scheme will be tethered to any cap that applied, and that information is already available to members.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

The Minister teases me a little with the idea that we might have a second pensions Bill this Parliament. I do not think he really believes that will be the case.

I recognise what the Minister has said. The very fact that he believes that the information will be included in regulations is a positive response, and for that I am grateful, but again we are back to the issue raised originally by the Constitution Committee. It said that there was a tremendous reliance by the Government on secondary legislation in the entire Bill.

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

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the affirmative nature of the regulations. That will allow scrutiny and discussion.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

Indeed. That is exactly why I am confident that what the Minister is saying will come to pass. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 29 to 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32