Investment Strategy

Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 9th February 2017.

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“(1) A Master Trust, after taking proper advice, formulate an investment strategy which must be in accordance with guidance issued from time to time by the Secretary of State,

(2) The Trust must consult scheme members on—

(a) the Trust’s assessment of the suitability of particular investment and types of investment;

(b) the Trust’s approach to risk, including the ways in which risks are to be assessed and managed;

(c) the Trust’s policy on how social, environmental, and corporate governance considerations are taken into account in the selection, non-selection, retention and realisation of investments;

(d) the Trust’s policy on the exercise of the rights (including voting rights) attaching to investments; and

(e) the right of scheme members to consider non-financial issues relating to their investments and be consulted on these issues.

(3) The Trust must review the strategy at least once a year, and revise if appropriate

(4) The Trust must revise the strategy at any time if there is any significant change to the information included in it.

(5) In the event of (4) above, the Trust must consult with scheme members, and the revise the strategy in the light of comments made.

(6) The Secretary of State may make regulations with a view to ensuring that the information disclosed under subsection (1) is provided in a timely and comprehensible manner.”.—

A Master Trust must include an investment strategy which outlines what the Master Trust should consult scheme members on in areas of investment.

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.

Welcome to our walk-in fridge, Ms Buck. I had a discussion with the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Winchester.

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

On a point of order, Ms Buck. Actually, I do not know whether it is a point of order or a point of clarification. Before we come to the hon. Gentleman’s new clause, am I correct in saying that new clauses 11, 12 and 13 were all withdrawn?

New clauses 12 and 13 were not called.

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

I was talking about the conversation that I had with the Government Whip about whether we should invoke the Factories Act. He reminded me that, unhelpfully, said law does not apply to the Palace of Westminster. The Minister mentioned kicking a can, and I remember playing kick the can in the street as a young boy. Perhaps you can provide us with a can, Ms Buck, and we can have a game after we debate the next new clause to warm ourselves up.

New clause 2 continues our theme of transparency and member engagement. It is designed to improve the way that master trusts consult their members about their investment strategies and ensure that members are aware of the guidelines that trustees establish for the management of members’ assets. The new clause would modernise the approach to fiduciary—I find that word even more difficult to say than “Lochaber”—management of savers’ assets and update the statement of investment principles approach currently required of master trusts. A master trust would have to have an investment strategy and consult scheme members about that strategy and about socially responsible investment—commonly known as environmental, social and governance issues.

Until now, every occupational pension scheme has been legally required to prepare and maintain a statement of investment principles, which is expected to cover the trustees’ plans for securing compliance with their statutory duties, their policies on investments, risks and returns, and how they will exercise their voting rights. In short, it allows trustees to consider factors that they believe will influence the financial performance of their investments and consult members about those issues. As long as pension funds can show that any investment or policy decision was made on a fiduciary basis and members were consulted, they can avoid the charge that they have not considered members’ best interests.

Public opinion tends to position the average citizen as a helpless bystander in this drama, but in fact it is their money that underpins the entire system. Anyone with a pension is, indirectly, an owner of Britain’s biggest companies. The new clause seeks to create a world in which people feel that their savings give them a positive stake in the economy and a voice in how the companies in which they invest are run. Although we may hope or even expect that scheme members have a say, the reverse is true: power has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of opaque and unaccountable financial institutions. As the Kay report showed, those institutions often face systematic pressures to act in ways that may not serve savers’ interests. Direct accountability to savers is a vital component of a healthy economic and financial system. As millions more savers are about to enter the capital markets through pensions auto-enrolment, now is the right time to build a more accountable system.

In June 2011, the Government invited Professor John Kay to conduct a review of UK equity markets and long-term decision making. The Kay review considered how well equity markets were achieving their core purposes—to enhance the performance of UK companies and enable savers to benefit from the activity of those businesses through returns to direct and indirect ownership of shares in UK companies. The review identified that short-termism is a problem in UK equity markets. Professor Kay recommended that company directors, asset managers and asset holders should adopt measures to promote both stewardship and long-term decision making. He stressed in particular:

“Asset managers can contribute more to the performance of British business (and in consequence to overall returns to their savers) through greater involvement with the companies in which they invest.”

He concluded that adopting such responsible investment practices would prove beneficial for investors and markets alike. In practice, responsible investment could involve making long-term investment decisions, as well as playing an active role in corporate governance by exercising shareholder voting rights.

I hope that master trusts will want to consider the Kay review’s findings when developing their proposals, including what governance procedures and mechanisms are needed to facilitate long-term responsible investing and stewardship through the funds that they choose for members to save into. The UK stewardship code published by the Financial Reporting Council also provides master trusts with guidance on good practice in monitoring and engaging with the companies in which they invest. The new clause would ensure sure that trustees are guided by the members of the scheme whose money they invest.

In recent decades, efforts to improve the way companies are run have focused heavily on making directors more accountable to their shareholders—for example, the recent introduction of a binding “say on pay”—but the job is only half done. Ownership rights are exercised largely by institutions that are themselves intermediaries. Accountability to the underlying savers who provide the capital remains weak. The logical next step must be for institutional investors to extend the same accountability they expect from companies to the savers they represent.

The UK stewardship code was introduced in the aftermath of the financial crisis to address concerns that shareholders were behaving as absentee landlords. Rather than being enforced by regulators, it is a voluntary code that relies on scrutiny from below to promote compliance, mirroring the corporate governance code for companies. The investment regulations currently require master trusts to set out within the statement of investment principles the extent to which social, environmental or corporate governance considerations are taken into account in the selection, retention and realisation of investments, but savers are left out of the loop. Just as I have argued for greater engagement with members on other issues, I believe it is needed here too.

In addition, accountability should build trust in the system even among those who do not choose to engage, thus encouraging people to keep saving. That is an important consideration in a market where just 7% of retail investors trust investment firms to do the right thing and consumers cite lack of trust as the No. 1 reason for opting out of private pension saving. Practical objections on the grounds that savers are not interested or not capable of engaging with their money simply perpetuate a vicious circle of disengagement. Savers may be put off by the language of investment, but that does not mean they are not interested in where their money goes. The onus must be on the master trusts and the wider investment sector to communicate with savers in a way they find meaningful. Likewise, savers may lack understanding of the technicalities of investment, but there are many matters on which they are qualified to comment, including the way their scheme behaves as an owner of major companies or its policy on social, environment and governance issues.

Transparency is necessary, but not sufficient for a more accountable investment system. Savers must also have the right to engage directly with decisions about their money, in the same way that shareholders engage with companies. Of course, we are not suggesting that all savers should be consulted on every decision. In our view, engagement with savers has three key elements. Savers should have the right to be consulted about investment policies, particularly those that should be firmly grounded in the views of savers, such as socially responsible investment policies. It is sometimes argued that since savers will inevitably disagree, acting on their views can prove difficult, but that objection can be refuted by example: schemes such as the National Employment Savings Trust demonstrate the possibilities of using face-to-face engagement with savers to inform the development of policy. Savers should be able to subject decisions made on their behalf to healthy scrutiny and challenge. While companies are obliged to hold annual meetings at which the board accounts to their shareholders, no such requirement extends to pension schemes.

Making capital markets more answerable to the individuals whose money they invest offers a potential lever for rebuilding trust in the City and for promoting more responsible and long-termist corporate behaviour. Such accountability must be nurtured over time by institutional investors such as master trusts, other pension savers and civil society in general. As Mark Carney said back in 2013, if it is

“finance that becomes disconnected from the economy, from society, finance that only talks to itself and deals with each other, that becomes socially useless.”

We have an opportunity here to change the landscape that sees pension savers as passive uninterested participants by engaging with them on decisions that affect their lives. When I started this speech, I said I was continuing the theme of member engagement. The new clause would extend what currently happens in relation to investment decisions, and I commend it to the Committee.

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

Before the hon. Gentleman concludes his speech, I wanted to ask about subsections (3) and (4) of the new clause, which state:

The Trust must review the strategy at least once a year…The Trust must revise the strategy at any time if there is any significant change to the information”.

Can he explain what form that review would take and what role investment advisers would have, if any, in that review?

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

That is an extremely difficult question to answer. [Interruption.] Everyone can laugh, but the Government talk about regulations and laying down guidance, and I hope that they would be able to provide the necessary guidance.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions) 2:30 pm, 9th February 2017

This is actually a very serious point. The hon. Gentleman’s new clause would require an annual review, so it is pertinent to ask how that would be conducted and what role, if any, investment advisers would have.

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

There has to be a role for investment advisers, but the crux of my point is that members should have some say in the investment decisions that affect them.

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

Can I deduce from that that the hon. Gentleman actually has no idea how such reviews should be conducted?

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

That is not exactly the case. It is clear that we need a set of circumstances in which members are properly engaged, equipped and informed. If they are, they will be able to contribute.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

I oppose new clause 2 just as I opposed new clause 1, not least because of practicality. Let us go back to the example of NEST, which could have millions and millions of members—and I envisage that it probably will. How on earth could an investment strategy be decided by 3 million members? That would probably lead to three million and one different investment strategies.

I do not see anything in the Bill that would prevent a scheme such as the one the hon. Gentleman proposes from coming to the market if there was demand for it from several employers and members in those employers. The market could then decide, “I like the look of that scheme, with its huge member involvement.” I see no reason why such a scheme could not evolve if one was called for.

The hon. Gentleman speaks about an ethical investment policy. That is all very well, but I remind him that the Co-op bank took a similar route, and it is not exactly in great shape. I put it to him that when I go to a doctor, I like to see the doctor; I do not particularly want to see the lay members of the NHS trust as well. I feel comfortable leaving this with investment professionals, because they will be judged on their performance. If they do not achieve, employers may look at an alternative master trust.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

Surely when picking a pension fund employers interact with funds and many of these issues are raised in those interactions.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

As my hon. Friend says quite clearly, the results will speak for themselves. I come back to the principles that I mentioned earlier: the fund has to have good returns and be well run and focused, because it has one function—to deliver good pensions. Again, I do not see that the new clause would achieve any of those principles, and if nothing else, it is unworkable because of the size of funds.

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

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend; member engagement and involvement sounds very good—it is a laudable objective—but I have been around for nearly 60 years, of which I was in business for nearly 30, and I do not feel qualified to assess an investment strategy. I say that not to insult the vast majority of people, but because, although independent financial advisers and accountants may be able to do that, it is almost impossible for an individual to do so. We have to look at a way of ensuring that the investment strategy is the correct one for the majority of members, and that the regulatory system, the supervisory system and so on are in place. Hon. Members mentioned NEST, which already has more than 4 million members and 230,000 employers. This idea is very interesting but not at all practical.

I remind hon. Members that trustees play a key role in managing assets. They have overall accountability for the investment strategy. They have a legal duty; the hon. Members for Stockton North and for Ross, Skye and Lochaber—I can just about manage to say that now—used the expression “fiduciary duty,” and the trustees have a fiduciary duty to the members.

Laudable as new clause 2 is, pensions legislation already includes requirements for investment decisions to be transparent and in the best interests of members. The Government fully recognise the possible impact of investment decisions on members’ retirement outcomes. Even without the new clause, the Bill will add to those requirements. Clause 12(4)(d) already sets out that regulations made by the Secretary of State

“may include provision about…processes relating to transactions and investment decisions”,

while clause 12(2) states:

“In deciding whether it is satisfied that the systems and processes used in running the scheme are sufficient…the Pensions Regulator must take into account any matters specified in regulations”.

The new amendment would duplicate the provisions for master trust schemes that already exist under the Occupational Pension Schemes (Investment) Regulations 2005. The regulations require trustees of all schemes with 100 or more members to set out a statement of investment principles for their scheme. That statement must be made available to members on request and

“must cover…their policies in relation to…the kinds of investments to be held…the balance between different kinds of investments…risks, including the ways in which risks are to be measured” and other key issues. The trustees must ensure

“that the statement of investment principles…is reviewed at least every three years…and without delay after any significant change in investment policy.”

Most people who are automatically enrolled into pension schemes are likely to remain in their scheme’s default fund and will not actively engage themselves in the governance of the scheme. That is why legislation makes requirements about governance and oversight of these matters, and why most schemes, including master trust schemes, need to provide a default strategy that covers similar areas.

Finally, multi-employer schemes have a legal duty under the Occupational Pension Schemes (Scheme Administration) Regulations 1996 to make arrangements to encourage members of the scheme or their representatives to report their views on matters that relate to the scheme, including areas about which the new clause proposes that the trustees should consult scheme members.

G

" Pensions legislation already includes requirements for investment decisions to be transparent and in the best interests of members."
Surely the same should apply to the state pension and the discriminative section 20 removed from the Pensions Act.
Everyone with any commonsense or conscience can see that to deprive just a minority of pensioners their rightful earned and paid for pension uprating is theft and fraud perpetrated by Government using an Act of Parliament to do so contrary to every rule and code of conduct expected of those that are supposedly looking after the citizens best interests.
When will the DWP join the honest bunch !

Submitted by George Morley

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

I am listening carefully to the Minister, and I broadly agree with him. Obviously there will be ongoing reviews of investment strategy, which should be communicated to members where appropriate. One way in which that could be done, as a matter of best practice for these schemes, would be for a statement of investment principles to be mailed to members as part of the annual report. That would give more clarity on the direction of travel of the fund’s investments.

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

As usual, the hon. Gentleman makes a very sensible suggestion, which should be considered. However, I believe that everything in the new clause is already included in legislation and that it is therefore unnecessary, so I urge the hon. Member for Stockton North to withdraw it.

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

Let me first address the point about size and the ability to organise communications in this sort of situation. If Legal & General can do it, so can others.

The Minister described lots of ideas raised today as laudable. Sadly, all the ideas he supports exclude members. He rejects the idea of members being represented among trustees and the idea of member-nominated directors. His position is that everything should be left to professionals and to the marketplace, and that members may not be able to take part in or understand investment decisions. He admitted that he might not understand those decisions, but there are members out there who do, and it would be helpful if at least some of them could represent their fellow members and challenge some of the things that their trustees are doing.

One further point concerns me. An employer may opt for a particular trust but become dissatisfied with it and move. There are a very large number of employers, and I fear that a large number of them are disengaged. I wonder whether they are acting in the best interests of their employees. I will come to that during the debate on a later amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3