Membership of Master Trust Schemes: Member Trustees

Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 9th February 2017.

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‘(1) By a date to be set by the Secretary of State in regulations, approved Master Trust Schemes must ensure that at least half of the trustees of the scheme are Member Trustees.

(2) Member Trustees must be individuals who are—

(a) members of the Master trust scheme; and

(b) not members of senior management of a company that is enrolled in the Master Trust scheme.

(3) Member Trustees must be appointed by a process in which—

(a) any member of the scheme who meets the condition in subsection is to apply to be a Member Trustee;

(b) all the active members of the scheme, or an organisation which adequately represents the active members, are eligible to participate in the selection of the Member Trustees, and

(c) all the deferred members of the scheme, or an organisation which adequately represents the deferred members, are eligible to participate in the selection of the Member Trustees.

(4) Member Trustees should be given sufficient time off by their employer to fulfil their duties.

(5) For the purpose of this clause “senior management”, in relation to an organisation, means the persons who play significant roles in—

(a) the making of decisions about how the whole or a substantial part of its activities are to be managed or organised, or

(b) the actual managing or organising of the whole or a substantial part of those activities.’—

This new clause ensures that where named individuals hold the position of Trustee in a Master Trust, at least half of those Trustees must be Member Trustees. “Member Trustees” are members of the trust themselves and must not hold a senior management position in an organisation which participates in the Trust.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

New clause 6—Member-nominated directors—

‘(1) By a date to be set by the Secretary of State in regulations, all companies that are trustees of a Master Trust Scheme where all the trustees are companies must ensure that at least half their directors are Member-nominated directors.

(2) “Member-nominated directors” are directors of the company in question who—

(a) are nominated as the result of a process in which at least the following are eligible to participate—

(i) all the active members of the occupational trust scheme or an organisation which adequately represents the active members, and

(ii) all the deferred members of the occupational trust scheme or an organisation which adequately represents the deferred members, and

(b) are selected as a result of a process which involves some or all of the members of that scheme.’

This new clause will ensure that where companies hold the position of Trustee in a Master Trust, at least half of their directors are Member-nominated directors. “Member-nominated directors” are active or deferred trust members who have been selected by other members of the scheme.

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

New clauses 1 and 6 take me back to my central theme for the Bill, which is putting members first by introducing member-nominated trustees and directors for master trusts, or member governance of their money. I remind the Committee that all the investment risk lies with the members and not with the sponsor or the provider; they should therefore have representation at the decision-making level.

The Pensions Act 1995 introduced the requirement for company pension schemes to have member-nominated trustees, or MNTs. If the scheme’s sole trustee is a company including the employer, rather than individuals, scheme members will have the right to nominate directors of that company, who will be member-nominated directors, or MNDs. In those circumstances, my references to MNTs apply equally to MNDs. Member-nominated trustees of pension schemes have been a part of UK pensions since the emergence of occupational pension plans in the middle of the last century.

Under the Pensions Act 1995, following the Goode report, a rule was introduced that a third of trustees had to be nominated, although companies could opt out of that rule. The Goode report came out of a series of scandals and corporate collapses in the late 1980s and early 1990s that led to losses to occupational pension funds. In particular, Robert Maxwell, the proprietor of the Mirror Group Newspapers, was subsequently exposed as having stolen millions of pounds from his employees’ pension schemes. In the Pensions Act 2004, the rule was made compulsory. The Secretary of State has the power to raise the threshold from one third to one half, and Labour is committed to implementing that. Many pension funds already have one half of trustees nominated, even though the law requires less.

Given the steady growth in numbers and the formalisation and establishment of member trustees in our pension system, the Association of Member Nominated Trustees emerged in September 2010 to provide support for member trustees. It is adamant that master trusts must be obliged to have member representation on their boards. It is no surprise that master trusts are lobbying against that, but they are mostly profit-making entities, so it is in their own best interest that they have member representation in order to win the confidence of scheme members.

After the Robert Maxwell scandal, the Government legislated to ensure member representation on pension scheme trust boards because they recognised that that would be a powerful way to prevent unscrupulous scheme sponsors from repeating Maxwell’s behaviour. That argument is no less relevant to master trusts. DC schemes managed by master trusts owe fiduciary and other duties to their beneficiaries, and trustees are required to act in the best interests of their members. Trust-based schemes are subject to trust law and regulated largely by the Pensions Regulator. If the scheme’s sole trustee is a company rather than individuals, scheme members would have the right to nominate directors of that company.

Ensuring effective governance for pension schemes remains a challenge. While trust-based schemes benefit from a clear governing body in the form of the trustees, there is a clear absence of member-nominated trustees in the majority of master trusts. Improved governance must include MNTs, packaged with improved training and facility time to dedicate time to the job. Master trusts and independent governance committees lack scheme member input into the investment process, and they need an overhaul. Since the pot belongs to the member and the scheme-sponsoring employers bear no investment risk, there is an argument to be made that governance by scheme members should prevail in number terms over employers.

While some companies choose to operate a trust-based defined-contribution scheme, most new auto-enrolled members will not be saving into one; instead, the vast majority will be saving into a master trust or a group personal pension arrangement. In such schemes, member representation on governance boards is far more rare. With one or two exceptions, we are not aware of any master trust or independent governance committee that has taken the step of putting in a member or finding a mechanism for electing members or appointing members to governance boards.

The benefits of member representation in the trust-based world have been examined. One benefit is the increased diversity that MNTs can bring. Having a member perspective adds diversity, and diversity prevents the risk of group-think within boards. That is because of a range of different member perspectives, experiences and areas of interest. It is also comforting for members to feel that they have some stake in the management and stewardship of a pension scheme. Ian Pittaway, chair of the Association of Professional Pension Trustees, said:

“They’re brilliant in so many areas, they ask difficult questions that other people might be frightened to ask, they’re great on member issues, whether it’s changing benefits or a death-in-service case or something like that. Every board I chair is enriched by having members on it and it would be a very sad day if we sat there with just professionals running the scheme in a very arm’s-length way.”

The AMNT’s 700 members are trustees of about 500 pension schemes with collective assets worth approximately £700 billion. It stated:

“We believe that member representation is crucial in the governance of Master Trusts. It will give greater assurance that these trusts operate, and are seen to operate, in the members’ interests and that the scheme members can have confidence in them. The importance of giving members representation on the trustee board has been borne out by research by The Pensions Regulator and Share Action, which demonstrate that diversity is a key benefit of the trustee model. This view is widely supported in the pensions industry.”

In the DB world, as long as a scheme was well governed and well administered, the member would end up with a reasonable replacement ratio. In the DC world, however, a member’s outcome depends on a host of factors that are beyond members’ control. Most members do not have a say in which scheme they are enrolled into, and even if they believe a scheme is not the best possible fit for them, they are unlikely to be able to transfer without losing their employer contributions. A worrying feature of the UK is that people who bear the risk are not freely able to exercise choice.

Better member representation could help to reassure members that they are enrolled in schemes that are well governed by boards that have their best interests at heart. That would also help solve the thorny issue of getting people to save more. The figures for auto-enrolment show low levels of contributions, and we need members to feel willing to increase their contributions.

Member representation may face some resistance. For a master trust with 20,000 clients and 900,000 members, running an election could be challenging. Some master trusts, however, have had success with elections. The Pensions Trust, which started life as a DB master trust but has now expanded into DC, has a board made up of 50% member-nominated trustees and 50% employer-nominated trustees. Those representatives are elected from the pool of companies that use the trust. The AMNT believes that employer support is necessary to enable member trustees to fulfil their roles with appropriate time off. There are clear issues with governance in both trust-based and contract-based DC workplace pensions. In the past the Office of Fair Trading has highlighted a lack of member engagement, along with higher charges and a lack of review, as the main challenges for the DC schemes. As auto-enrolment is extended to smaller employers, the need to address those challenges is becoming more pressing.

We need a clear route into better member representation. Most in the sector agree in principle that it can only be beneficial to the DC landscape. The Bill has nothing on a mandatory requirement for MNTs, but seems like a logical place in which to include them. To place an emphasis on member representation and perhaps change some of the barriers to an effective system, therefore, the Government should act now.

Some say that as larger master trusts cater for thousands of employees, the vast majority of them would not be represented on the trustee board. Others say that democracy is too expensive, but the scale of the master trusts should not be a barrier. USS, the universities superannuation scheme, has more than 250,000 members and nearly 400 employers. The plumbers and mechanical services (UK) industry pension scheme has more than 36,000 members and more than 400 employers. RPMI has more than 500,000 members and more than 100 employers. All those have member-nominated directors nominated by representatives of the members and pensioners of the schemes. If schemes on that scale can do it, so can master trusts.

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

I would like to make the point that, in the trustee system that has evolved, trustees have a duty to act in the best interests of all members, as the hon. Gentleman stated. I certainly agree that one of the strengths of the trust-based system for occupational pensions is that there are different sorts of trustees. I have been a trustee of a pension scheme myself, so I accept that argument.

The hon. Gentleman’s mention of Robert Maxwell and that scheme is very relevant to my life now, because many of my constituents in Watford call themselves the Maxwell pensioners. Most of the system of regulation, including this Bill, came about because of that and other examples.

I respectfully remind the hon. Gentleman that in many of the cases that the Pensions Regulator has dealt with, there have been plenty of member trustees, and they have been ignored, not listened to, not felt to be relevant or just bamboozled, so it is not a perfect system anyway. As he knows, the whole reason for the Bill is that master trusts, which are hugely complex, have evolved over a very short period in a very sophisticated way. They are not the same as individual trust-based pension schemes, which is why we need this extra legislation.

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

I accept the Minister’s explanation that member trustees are being ignored, or that their views are simply being set aside, but I would suggest that is why we need proper procedures in place, whether for master trusts or other pension schemes, to ensure that member trustees are given the proper training and understanding and the time to do their job to the best of their ability, so that they are not ignored.

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

I agree. That relates to a general regulatory issue, as well as the specific ones we are talking about today. I remind the hon. Gentleman that master trusts are subject to scheme administration regulations, which require that schemes used by multiple employers must have three trustees. The majority of those trustees have to be independent of anyone who provides services to the scheme. We are not just saying, “Forget member trustees; they should all be representatives of the scheme.” All trustees, whoever they are, have got the same fiduciary duty to all members. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of that, but I think that is very relevant in resisting his new clauses. It is very important that all trustees know that, and I believe they do.

Although master trusts are exempt from the existing requirements for member-nominated trustees, they are subject to all other regulatory obligations. As I said, the scheme administration regulations ensure that the majority of trustees are non-affiliated trustees. The authorisation criteria in the Bill subject all trustees to a fit and proper person tests assessed by the regulator. Facts to be considered in that test include how the people running the scheme are connected with other companies or people.

The new clause appears very attractive on the surface, because it appears that it is just saying, “Members are great and can stop all bad things from happening. They need to be represented, and the way to do that is by making sure they are directors or trustees.” I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think that we are against member-nominated trustees, because we are not, or that we think that member-nominated directors are inappropriate in master trust schemes. He mentioned the universities superannuation scheme, which is very complex and sophisticated, and certain things work for it. I have met staff of that scheme. I believe that the Bill will address the points he made.

I hope that hon. Members are sufficiently reassured that we are ensuring that trustees act in the best interest of members. I have explained why the Government are of the view that the new clause is unnecessary, and I respectfully urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

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

The Minister appeared to agree in part of his speech that member-nominated trustees are a good idea, even if he feels that in many cases their views have been ignored in the past. He has left me a little confused as to whether he supports member trustees, though certainly not in the context of master trusts. Well, I do, and I referred in my speech to organisations that also support the idea of empowering members and ensuring that they have the time and training to fulfil that role. Therefore, I will not withdraw the new clause and will press it to a vote.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions) 1:00 pm, 9th February 2017

The proposed new clause contains a principle that I think we would all like to encourage concerning member engagement. There is the issue of democracy and the fact that these are members’ funds, and I think that we all get that point. The salient point for me is that addressed by other hon. Members: trustees are to act in the best interests of their members. We all recognise the duty and obligations that trustees must have. It is important, whether they are independent or member trustees, that they are aware of their responsibilities.

The key matter, in what is becoming a very complex world, rightly with increasing regulation, for which we understand the reasons, is that trustees can discharge their obligations and duties. Although I would encourage member trustees to be involved, and it is important that they are given adequate training, I would find it difficult to support the compulsion in the proposed new clause that member trustees must make up 50% of the board. That would be the case in an ideal world.

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

I did not say 50%. That was an example. We would need a situation in which we can have some member trustees.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions)

Reference has been made to member trustees making up 50% of the board, which is something I could not support. I can support the general principle that member trustees should be represented, that there should be elections and that they should be able to take the time they need to devote to this and get proper training, but I cannot support at this stage having compulsion as part of that, on the basis of the responsibilities that trustees have to represent all member interests.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

I can understand the laudable aims of the hon. Member for Stockton North, but where such boards have had member participation, the reality has not always been a fantastic success. I had an oblique interest in the Maxwell pensions fiasco because I belonged to a firm of chartered accountants appointed to look into that big mess, so I have some experience of that. I was also a member of the Joint Committee that looked into the BHS pension schemes, which also had member participation. That really did not come out as a great success. There was no issue of fraud, but were those employee members really tough enough to stand up to an overpowering sponsoring employer?

What we have is different from the occupational pension scheme arrangement, for which I think it is good, right and proper for its members to participate. We are considering master trusts, in which thousands of employers may be involved. I am sure that there may be only a few hundred master trusts that would bother to adhere to the new clause’s regulations after they come into place. The National Employment Savings Trust is probably going to be the biggest master trust for some time to come, with possibly millions of employees involved, and I cannot understand how on earth we could have an election process involving millions of people and different employers.

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

Legal & General, one of the largest insurance companies, manages to do that in order to communicate properly with its members. While I am on my feet, I also make the point that the hon. Gentleman says that having member trustees has not been a fantastic success. Does he therefore believe that the views of members should be excluded? I remind him that in master trusts it is the members who bear all the financial risk—no one else—so why should they not have some control or some say over their funds?

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

I do not disagree with what the hon. Gentleman says; ultimately, it is the employees’ funds, and it is important that they should take the greatest interest in them. I think that employee involvement in occupational schemes has generally been worthy and a great success, but I am more concerned about the practicalities of how the form of democracy he advocates could possibly work when there will be millions of employees in a single master trust.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

With regard to the potential for an administrative nightmare, is it not also true that companies will switch between different master trusts? If the requirement of having elections and so on is put upon them, that will make administration even more difficult, if not impossible.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

I thank my hon. Friend for outlining further the complexities of what the hon. Member for Stockton North is proposing. What we are looking for from master trusts is that they are well run, safe and that they actually perform for the pensioners of the future. With the greatest respect, the administrative costs of what he is proposing could actually outweigh any positive parts that he thinks will come out of it, so I cannot support his new clause.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions)

I know that the hon. Member for Stockton North has stated that he is not asking for a majority of trustees to be elected, but that is exactly what new clause 1 calls for—it calls for at least half of the trustees of a scheme to be member trustees. I just wanted to clarify that point. For that reason, I cannot support the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Division number 5 Seasonal Working — Membership of Master Trust Schemes: Member Trustees

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Steve Brine.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.