Automatic Enrolment: Lower Earnings Limit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:53 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 4:53 pm, 12th March 2019

We are going for consensus in this debate, Minister, so we should continue on that ground.

The SNP supports and has always supported auto-enrolment but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South highlighted, we remain critical friends. Only last month, I raised the delay in scrapping the lower earnings limit threshold when the Minister brought the relevant statutory instrument to the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend mentioned a number of benefits if only the Government would scrap the threshold, and during the SI debate the Minister said that auto-enrolment was a success story. I agree, but we could make it so much more successful if we only got on with it.

I hope that we can build on what my hon. Friend rightly said in arguing for the lower earnings limit to be scrapped and that, in summing up, the Minister will provide us with a clear and concrete timetable for the UK Government to meet and achieve their policy promise. I would also appreciate him clarifying whether implementation of the commitment to scrap the lower earnings limit will require a submission to the comprehensive spending review and, if so, is that being prepared by his Department?

I am sorry that I do not have more contributions to the debate to sum up. It is obviously an important debate and I am sorry that no one other than the Minister—I look forward to hearing from him—and his Parliamentary Private Secretary, Colin Clark, managed to drag themselves away from the unfolding Brexit mess going on in the main Chamber.

I am grateful to those who have contributed to the debate, including my constituency neighbour, Hugh Gaffney, for being present and for his speech. He also spoke in favour of the Government’s policy being implemented, and he rightly reiterated much of the information and statistics that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South provided to the House in her speech. He was also right to refer to the age restrictions; he mentioned the WASPI women, and I am sure he would agree that no one outside the WASPI campaign has done more to raise the profile of those women, argue their case, or represent them in this place than my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend Angela Crawley made a powerful, fact-based speech. She was right to say that the delay in implementing the policy in full is preventing people from being able to plan adequately for their future. I know that is not the Minister’s intention, but he must acknowledge that the longer that the delay is allowed to continue, the more that will be the case. She was also right to ask whether a 16-year-old working the same full-time job as a 26-year-old colleague should continue to be discriminated against by not receiving pension contributions when their colleagues do.

In conclusion, I once again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South. She was right to say that things are moving in the right direction and that that is what we want to see, but we want greater and swifter action. The delay, the problems with making progress on realising the pensions dashboard, the WASPI women issues, and the lack of a concrete pensions policy all highlight, in our view, the need for an independent pensions commission. In summing up, on an otherwise troubling day for the Minister and his colleagues in Government, I hope that he will bring some joy and set out a clear, concrete timetable for scrapping the lower earnings limit. I look forward to hearing from him in that regard.