Clause 27 — Requirement to wind up scheme in specified circumstances

Part of Nature – in the House of Commons am 1:00 pm ar 24 Chwefror 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 1:00, 24 Chwefror 2015

I thank the Minister for his explanation of amendment 1 and those with which it is grouped. Let me make a number of points. There are two parts of this Bill, and we will come to the second part regarding the way it interacts with the pension budget flexibilities announced in last year’s Budget in a moment. I would like to put on record my thanks to the other place and particularly those on the Opposition Front Bench who have done such a sterling job on what is often a rather technical Bill. I also want to put on record my appreciation for the work done by Baronesses Drake and Hollis who have done so much to make this a better piece of legislation.

Let me pick the Minister up on a couple of things, particularly around clause 8. He referred in his explanation to clause 8 and the delegated powers contained therein. He will be aware that the debates in the other place focused for some time on the implications of clause 8 because, of course, it is a key and critical provision setting the definition of what are collective benefits, on which the rest of the clauses in part 2, and many of the associated delegated powers, depend. That is why it is so critical in its construct and its definition of the delegated powers associated with it.

In the other place, Baroness Drake made it clear that in her view the power to set regulations under clause 8(3)(b) should be subject to the affirmative procedure because a definition of what is or is not a collective benefit is critical to the whole scope of part 2, which deals with collective benefits. Clause 8(3)(b) would allow the Government to use regulations to avoid schemes being subject to the expense of meeting the detailed requirements set out in clauses 9 to 35 if they are deemed not to be proper collective benefits, but the clause, in granting the Government power to significantly alter by regulation the constituent benefits that are not included in the definition of collective benefits, has the ability to potentially remove members of schemes from the protection of the requirements in the other clauses in part 2.

The Minister will know that this could have considerable implications for members and the scope of the whole of part 2. The potential of this regulation to remove members from the protections they may already have by being in a designated collective benefit scheme which subsequently a change of regulation deems they are no longer in makes it in our view compelling that this should remain a power that is subject to the affirmative procedure. The Government’s reply to the scrutiny from the Opposition in the other place was to say, “Well, the affirmative procedure will be used in first use, but subsequently not,” but surely this is worth considering. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response.

In the other place, the Government gave a detailed response to this critique. As anyone who reads the debates will see, it revolved around the fact that the first use will be by affirmative procedure, but the affirmative procedure might be used in the first instance on something quite straightforward such as that an obvious with-profits policy arrangement is not to be included in collective benefits, but the subsequent use of the regulation under the negative procedure might go to the heart, to something much more fundamental such as an existing collective benefit scheme. We must be aware of the possibility that regulations could be used to weaken the protections scheme members have.

In response to this specific point, Lord Bourne said in the other place that the negative procedure will still provide a measure of protection, but we know that is not the level of protection that would be provided by the affirmative procedure. This is rather technical, but it does bear upon a very important aspect, which is that moving towards a negative position rather than a positive position through an affirmative vote could be a way in which the protections are weakened—I am sure against the Minister’s inclinations and desires. I would appreciate hearing his observations on that part of the debate in the other place.

More widely, much of the debate in the other place on this part of the Bill focused on clauses relating to the duties of fiduciaries or managers of the schemes. The Minister and I have had that debate a number of times, but given all the regulatory complication of setting up the independent governance committees and giving them fiduciary responsibilities to monitor the behaviour of private pension providers while exempting the private providers themselves, this just seems an unnecessary complication. Pensions are complex enough without making them that much more complex. The responsibility should be put directly on the decision makers in the pensions industry by applying a fiduciary obligation not to them themselves, but to trustees to do the job of governance throughout.

The Minister will be aware that Professor John Kay, reporting for the Government—and particularly for the yellow-tinged part of the Government, as the Minister will no doubt be aware—was clear that everyone managing someone else’s money or advising on investment should be subject to fiduciary standards of care. I have argued on a number of occasions—and if it is exhausting for me, it must be exhausting for those listening—for extending a clear fiduciary duty to those who have discretion over the management of other people’s money. The Australians have that principle at the heart of their system, and while that system is not perfect, that aspect of it makes it clear unequivocally that conflicts of interest must be resolved in favour of beneficiaries.

I am not expecting the Minister dramatically to change course at this stage, but I would just point out that the Financial Conduct Authority’s recent investigations into the pensions industry have provided substantial arguments in favour of the proposition that I and others have been advancing. We have now had numerous reports on how the market is not serving pension scheme savers well, whether they have legacy schemes or annuities, owing to a lack of transparency, charges and many other factors.