Amendment 104

Financial Services and Markets Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:30 pm ar 13 Mehefin 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pleidleisiau yn y ddadl hon

Baroness Chapman of Darlington:

Moved by Baroness Chapman of Darlington

104: After Clause 71, insert the following new Clause—“Defined contribution and defined benefit pension funds investment review(1) The Treasury must publish a review of how to incentivise defined contribution (DC) and defined benefit (DB) pension funds to invest in high-growth firms and a diverse range of long-term assets in the United Kingdom, which must include green infrastructure.(2) The review must consider how best to do this while protecting the safeness and soundness of pension funds.(3) In carrying out the review, the Treasury must consult—(a) the Department for Work and Pensions,(b) the Department for Business and Trade,(c) the Pensions Regulator,(d) the FCA,(e) the PRA,(f) the Pension Protection Fund,(g) pension trustees, and(h) relevant financial services stakeholders.(4) The review must consider the merits of—(a) amending the definition of “specified scheme” within the meaning of the Occupational Pension Schemes (Scheme Administration) Regulations 1996 (S.I. 1996/1715) so as to increase the threshold of such DC schemes in respect of which trustees and managers are required to produce a value for members assessment under regulation 25 of those Regulations;(b) adjusting the terms of reference for DB Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) funds to consider regional development as an investment factor;(c) establishing frameworks to enable DB pension funds to invest in firms and infrastructure alongside the British Business Bank.(5) The Treasury must prepare a report on the outcome of the review, and lay it before Parliament within one year of the passing of this Act.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would compel the Treasury to publish a review within a year of Royal Assent on how to incentivise pension fund schemes to invest in high-growth firms and green infrastructure. The review would have to consider requiring DC schemes to assess the merits of: consolidation, establishing frameworks for British Business Bank investments (so that DB pension schemes will be able to invest alongside them), and adjusting the terms of reference for Local Government Pension Schemes (so they consider regional development as an investment factor).

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, we are pleased to bring back Amendment 104. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted and Lady Altmann, for signing the amendment.

Since Committee, and following the suggestion from the noble Lady Bowles, we have incorporated an additional consultee in the form of the Pension Protection Fund. If we are looking at different and better ways to utilise pension funds, it is only right that that body be formally involved in the process. It is important to note that the amendment would not directly lead to changes in how defined contribution and defined benefit pension funds are invested; it merely seeks consideration via a formal review of a number of potential ways forward.

I draw colleagues’ attention to subsection (2) of the proposed new clause in the amendment, which puts

“the safeness and soundness of pension funds” front and centre. While no investment fund is risk-free, this is about identifying how funds could be used to support high-growth firms and long-term assets, including green infrastructure.

In 2019, the British Business Bank and Oliver Wyman published research which found that the UK’s defined contribution firms are not investing in fast-growing and innovating companies. It is a problem because the UK is home to incredible tech start-ups and life science companies. They are Great British success stories, but their growth potential is sometimes limited by a lack of access to finance. The research found that retirement savings could be increased by a significant amount with just a modest investment in these firms. For example, a 22 year-old whose defined contribution scheme made 5% of investments in the UK’s fastest-growing companies could see an increase in their retirement pot of 7% to 12%.

Having amended the Bill to include a nature target, we must also consider how pension funds can do their bit to help the environment. This review would look at investments to the types of green infrastructure which will fuel our future economic growth and help deliver the transition to a net-zero economy. The Government recently included nature-based solutions as part of the definition of infrastructure in the UK Infrastructure Bank Act. If investment in nature is a suitable purpose for a Government-backed investment bank, we should harness the power of pension funds as well. This review would be timely, with the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and its UK subsidiary and the demise of Credit Suisse sparking panic in the financial markets and hitting the value of pension funds.

The world is changing. More people shop online and work from home, meaning that investment in things like shopping centres and office blocks no longer produces the returns it did in the past. If done properly, small changes to how pensions are invested could have a significant impact on UK economic growth and, more importantly, a significant impact for the scheme members themselves. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Ceidwadwyr

I declare an interest as trustee of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund. As a trustee, but also on my own behalf, I have no concern about pension funds being incentivised. We are there, as trustees, to look after our pensions in the future. Incentives are one thing, but, as a trustee, I am not sure I want to be dictated to and told I have to consider high-growth funds in particular.

When I look at proposals from our fund managers, I look at the return expected over a period of time. Obviously, we are long-term investors, and it may be that a firm has the potential to be one that produces excellent returns. I do not think, on the whole, that pension funds are there to help smaller and newly created firms grow. On the other hand, I can say quite honestly that proposals are in front of us in relation to infrastructure which have considerable merit. I suspect that positive decisions will follow in due course. I ask my noble friend and the Opposition to bear that in mind.

I will also comment on the proposed new subsection (3) on consultation. In addition to the parties listed, I would like to see the trade associations of, for instance, investment trusts, the associations of fund managers and a number of other organisations in the financial world which group together. If we are going to help our country in terms of growth, consultation should be with those at the coalface and those varying funds, et cetera.

I have reservations. I understand the driving force behind the amendment, but it does need some refinement before it is considered as a possible way forward.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I support this amendment, which fits very well alongside the discussions we had on the fiduciary duty of pension fund trustees. I will not push those amendments to a vote, but the work being done, as the Minister described, on having a clear and close look at the fiduciary duty for pension fund trustees would complement this amendment. I do not think it is threatening in any way to pension fund trustees; it is very carefully framed and asks the Treasury to publish a review on incentivisation. It is perfectly possible, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, to fine-tune it after the review—that is the purpose of the consultation.

This amendment is worth while. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, referred to the UK Infrastructure Bank and its recognition of nature-based projects and types of infrastructure as assets that could be invested in. I was involved in that amendment, on which the Minister, in her usual helpful style, listened and took action. I hope that she will similarly recognise the virtues of this proposed new clause and I support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I added my name to this amendment and suggested the inclusion of the Pension Protection Fund, partly because there is already quite a big conversation around how we will incentivise investment and be prepared to take a bit more risk, because the UK seems to have become very risk-averse. There has been regulatory encouragement, if you like, for pension funds to be somewhat risk-averse; I am not sure it is actually risk- averse to end up in a situation where you invest everything in sovereign bonds and have a systemic risk but, setting that conversation aside, gilts have always been regarded as a very steady investment. It has perhaps been forgotten how to invest for reward.

The fiduciary duty is important and we need to look at it, because there are implications if you suggest in any way to trustees what they ought to do. Of course, that does not mean that you have to take zero risk as a trustee—you must understand the risk and reward dynamic—but, if we move through legislative steps, we would have to add to the list of consultees a whole load of lawyers to help sort out how we deal with the common-law fiduciary duty. Overall, this is a good amendment, making the Government part of this conversation and drawing in more consultation so that more people can input with common purpose, instead of there being lots of consultations all over the place.

Of course, there is work being done by parliamentary committees and I hope notice will be taken of those, and maybe care taken, looking at proposed new subsection (4)(b) and

“adjusting the terms of reference for DB Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) funds to consider regional development as an investment factor”.

To some extent they can do that already, especially in the amounts that are retained where the local authorities are investing directly rather than through the pooled funds—and I have to declare an interest here in potentially listing a fund.

I have been talking to local authorities, but they are also very conscious that they want diversity. If we are going to have regional development, it is not, “Let us go off and all invest in our local shopping centre” again, which led to a slight disaster; they need to spread it around. So it may not be just regional development in their region, it would be regional development somewhere else to get the balance of risk. That is something that pension funds themselves are already very aware of. They are very interested in things such as place-based impact investing, but not solely in their own place. If everybody is taking that same attitude, they will have the diversity and we will also have that kind of development and the funding for it.

Overall, you could put many more things into this and it will not be the end of the story, but I think it is important to put this into the Bill so that work starts on it quickly, because we are almost in an emergency with the state of investment in this country and, therefore, the sooner we begin to address to address it and to make our money work for the things that are better for the economy, the sooner we will get results.

Photo of Lord Eatwell Lord Eatwell Llafur 5:45, 13 Mehefin 2023

My Lords, this is not just a good amendment, it is a very important and timely one. Noble Lords will recall that after the death of Robert Maxwell and the exposure of the way in which he had looted the Mirror Group pension funds, the Government introduced a new pensions structure to protect defined benefits pensions, as well as new accounting standards which needed to be obeyed by pension funds. The effect of this protective barrier placed around defined benefits funds has been that they have adopted extremely conservative investment strategies and the return on investments has correspondingly been extremely low compared with what could be achieved by quite modest amendments of investment strategy.

These issues are now a matter of widespread discussion where the unfortunate unintended consequences of the post-Maxwell legislation have been revealed. It is necessary quite rapidly to take account of the discussions, to assess the performance of pension funds since the last significant pensions legislation, and to come up with sensible proposals for reform. That is why this amendment is crucial, for both the pensions funds industry and the wider economy. I encourage the Minister to support this amendment because by doing so the Government would make a major contribution to the future prosperity of a whole raft of pensioners in this country and to the success of pension funds as investment vehicles within the UK economy.

Photo of Lord Blackwell Lord Blackwell Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I am concerned that, while seemingly innocuous, this amendment might turn out to be the thin end of the wedge of government intervention in pension investment. Clearly, the obligation on pension trustees should be to do their best to get the right returns for their investors. Once we start incentivising trustees to take decisions based on incentives offered to them, that raises the question of who then bears the consequences and the responsibility if those investments turn out in the long term not to be the right thing for their pensioners to be invested in.

I do not dispute the point that pension fund investments have not been optimal in the past, but to my mind that is to do with regulatory restrictions that have been placed on pension funds and the requirements to meet those restrictions. I think there is a case to look at the regulations around pension funds that restrict their investment choices and to enable them to invest in a wider set of assets, but I do not think the right way to do that is to start proposing incentives that would turn into the Government mandating the way that pension funds should be invested.

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Llafur

My Lords, I support the amendment. I still think of myself as a relatively new Member of the House, so it is useful to remind the House of my lifetime spent working in the pensions industry, broadly in support of scheme members. I have been a scheme trustee, I have chaired the Greater London Council investment panel and I have advised trustees of pension schemes as the scheme actuary. I am just stating my expertise here.

I support the amendment because I think a review is required. I take on board the remarks about the thin end of the wedge, but unless we have the review those concerns cannot be addressed. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, said, there is now a big conversation about using pension scheme money to promote the British economy. There is actually a long history of that sort of proposal going back over many years, but it seems to have reached a crescendo over the last year or so.

It is essential that we have a review. What is also essential, of course, is that the review is undertaken by those who know what they are talking about, but that has not necessarily been true about all the comments made so far. For example, I draw the attention of the House to the recent useful report produced by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association—not a body that I consistently agree with—on supporting pension investment in UK growth and thinking up quicker and simpler ways to promote pension fund investment in our economy.

I was going to raise two issues. One has already been explained clearly by my noble friend Lord Eatwell: the funding standards that have been established work against the principles that I am sure we all support. Another problem that we have is the Conservative Government’s introduction of freedom and choice. It is difficult to oppose freedom and choice but, when you come to pensions, which are long-term arrangements depending on long-term investment, giving people freedom of choice weakens the very basis upon which they are being organised. It is all very well saying to pension funds, “You’ve got to invest in infrastructure”, but if the members of that scheme have the right to pull their money out at any time, it is very difficult to take the long-term view. That is a fundamental incoherence behind the so-called policy of freedom and choice. Those issues need to be addressed in the review.

I also hope that the list of consultees for the review is not a complete list; to the extent that it is possible to consult the scheme members, they should be consulted as well. I also hope that the issues can go somewhat broader than those listed in the amendment.

In general terms, a review is needed, and I hope it will lead to the objective being clearly set out of promoting the UK economy.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I fully support and have added my name to this amendment. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies. We both go back a long way in the pensions industry. My entire career has been in pensions—examining occupational pension schemes as an academic, then managing occupational pension investments in the City, then advising schemes and Governments. I have also been a trustee on investment committees for pension schemes.

I have to say that the current position that members of pension schemes find themselves in—both members of defined benefit schemes and members of too-often-forgotten defined contribution schemes—has not been positive in terms of the experience of the 2022 markets. As we have heard, trustees and managers of pension schemes have been encouraged to believe that the right way in which to invest a pension fund is in supposedly low-risk—which actually also means relatively low-return —investments, rather than in the traditional and older-fashioned way of managing schemes that persisted until the noughties, which was to try and maximise returns.

We have now moved to a position whereby we were supposed to be minimising risk, but I argue that that entire movement away from supporting the British economy and away from supporting UK equities and UK growth assets has been underpinned and misled somewhat by quantitative easing. The Bank of England’s policy, which effectively offered a natural large buyer that underwrote and underpinned the government bond market, perhaps led people to believe that that was the best or safest way in which to invest pension funds. That was partly because the long-term value of the liabilities, as well as their present value, is discounted and measured as of today by using the gilt yield or bond yield measure. In corporate reporting it is double-A corporates; in actuarial valuations it is typically gilt yields.

In 2022, conventional gilts lost 20% and index-linked gilts 30% of their value. The FTSE 100 rose a little. Yes, smaller companies did not do so well, but the idea that pension schemes were investing in a low-risk manner was actually confounded last year, and I would argue that, as we move into a post-QE world and as we have recognised and I have been warning since 2011, or even earlier than that, the policy of quantitative easing is a significant danger for pension scheme investments and members.

We must recognise that we do not fully understand what investment risk means any more. The capital asset pricing model is based fundamentally on the idea that gilt yields are the lowest-risk assets and all assets are more risky—even if they offer more returns, potentially they are more risky—and may need to be considered with a little more circumspection.

That leads on to the idea that, if we do not quite know whether gilts and fixed income are indeed low risk in the way that we thought they were and they have been in the past—because central banks are going to need to offload at some point and are certainly no longer underpinning the markets—diversifying investments and supporting the domestic economy in the way that this review would be investigating must come into the public debate.

I know that the Chancellor will be looking to do something on this in the autumn. However, when you consider that taxpayers fund at least, and probably more than, 25% of every pension fund, and that 25% of everyone’s pension is tax free when they take it, the taxpayer does have a direct interest, over and above what has happened to members’ and employers’ money, in ensuring that these pension schemes can support the economy, whether in infrastructure, in investments that will boost sustainable growth, or in social housing.

So far, in a range of different investments over the last 15 years, domestic pension funds, despite having so much money—at least £50 billion a year of taxpayers’ money—have neglected our own stock market and small companies. So, if the Government want to boost growth —and they need to—and if we have a fiscal constraint post Covid, which we clearly do with the fiscal deficits we have, there is a rationale for the Government to look into how much of the money currently going into pension funds, and has already been put into pension funds, which suffered such huge loses last year in what were supposed to be safe investments, could and should be directed to boost growth from now on. Let us face it, when you boost domestic growth in the UK, you will also be helping to boost the retirement prosperity of our future pensioners, as well as current pensioners.

At the very least, I hope the Minister can see the merits of adopting this review and promoting the idea that there are important reasons why the long-term investments of our domestic pension funds, which had been the jewel in the crown of our financial system for many years, should be directed to work to the benefit of the economy and the pension scheme members themselves.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy) 6:00, 13 Mehefin 2023

My Lords, I speak from these Benches on behalf of my party, as a group of realists. The current Government, and any future Government, look at the pools of money in pension funds, whether defined contribution or defined benefit, and see them as a tempting source of investment in the area of scale up and infrastructure, where we are desperate to find additional investment. I point out that pension funds are not disadvantaged in investing in investment-grade assets in any way. It is in investing in sub-investment grade assets where they carry a burden under the current arrangements.

These investments in scale up and infrastructure are, by definition, high risk and illiquid, and we have to face up to that. Some 40% of scale-ups fail and infrastructure projects run notoriously late, and well over budget. I challenge people to come up with a very long list of infrastructure projects that have come in on time and on budget. It is hard to identify virtually any project that meets that test. It means that pension obligations must be fully protected if we are to open up these funds to be able to invest in a far more illiquid and high-risk way.

That is why I am comfortable with this amendment, because proposed new subsection (2) insists:

“The review must consider how best to do this while protecting the safeness and soundness of pension funds”.

I was also pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, introduced the additional consultee identified by my noble friend Baroness Bowles—the Pension Protection Fund—in this process, because that is clearly a mechanism which could provide the kind of protection for pensioners who may be exposed if we change the risk profile of pension fund investment.

I insist that the first responsibility of a pension fund is to pay out its obligations on time and in full. I suspect that everyone who is invested in a pension believes that that is, and must continue to be, true. Often when we discuss these issues the Canadian pensions funds are cited because they do indeed invest in illiquid and high-risk assets, but anyone reading the credit rating agencies discussing those pension funds will find that the pension funds are pretty much backstopped by the Canadian Government.

What I hope will come out of this review process are new opportunities to fund our economic growth but also protections commensurate—it may not be the same strategy but through some mechanism—with those that the Canadians have put in place, to make sure that our pensioners will still be paid on time and in full. If that no longer remains true, we end up in a very serious pickle but, having read through this set of amendments, I think they get us to the right place to be able to achieve that.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, the Government welcome the further discussions that this debate has given us the opportunity to have on the issue of unlocking pensions capital for long-term, productive investment where it is in the best interests of pension scheme members. Indeed, as I set out in Committee, the Government have a wide range of work under way to deliver the objectives set out by this review. While I was a little disappointed not to hear those initiatives referenced in this debate—apart from, perhaps, by my noble friend Lady Altmann—I will give it another go and set out for the House the work that is already under way in this area.

As previously set out, high-growth sectors developing cutting-edge technologies need access to finance to start, scale and stay in the UK. The Government are clear that unlocking pension fund investment into the UK’s most innovative firms will help develop the next generation of globally competitive companies in the UK.

The Chancellor set out a number of initial measures in the Budget to signal a clear ambition in this area. These included: increasing support for the UK’s most innovative companies by extending the British Patient Capital programme by a further 10 years until 2033-34 and increasing its focus on R&D-intensive industries, providing at least £3 billion in investment in the UK’s key high-growth sectors, including life sciences, green industries and deep tech; spurring the creation of new vehicles for investment into science and tech companies, tailored to the needs of UK defined contribution pension schemes, by inviting industry to provide feedback on the design of a new long-term investment for technology and science initiative—noble Lords may have seen that the Government launched the LIFTS call for evidence on 26 May; and leading by example by pursuing accelerated transfer of the £364 billion Local Government Pension Scheme assets into pools to support increased investment in innovative companies and other productive assets. The Government will come forward shortly with a consultation on this issue that will challenge the Local Government Pension Scheme in England and Wales to move further and faster on consolidating assets.

At Budget, the Chancellor committed the Government to undertaking further work with industry and regulators to bring forward an ambitious package of measures in the autumn. I reassure the noble Baroness opposite that this package aims to incentivise pension funds to invest in high-growth firms, and the Government will, of course, seek to ensure that the safety and soundness of pension funds are protected in taking this work forward, as in proposed new subsection (2). Savers’ interests will be central to any future government measures, as they have been to past ones. The Government want to see higher returns for pension holders in the context of strong regulatory safeguards.

In addition, the Government are already working with a wide range of interested stakeholders, including the DWP, the DBT, the Pensions Regulator, the FCA, the PRA and the Pension Protection Fund, as well as pension trustees and relevant financial services stake- holders. Proposed new subsection (3) in the amendment seeks to set out this list in legislation. I reassure the House that this is not necessary as the Treasury is actively engaging with them already, as appropriate. The Government would also be happy to engage with other interested stakeholders, as raised by my noble friend Lord Naseby and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton.

I note the specific areas of review outlined in subsection (4) of the proposed new clause, and I reassure noble Lords that the Government are considering all these issues as part of their work. In particular, proposed new subsection (4)(a) references the existing value-for-money framework. As I set out in Grand Committee, one area of focus for the Government’s work in this area is consolidation. To accelerate this, the Government have been working with the Financial Conduct Authority and the Pensions Regulator on a proposed new value-for-money framework setting required metrics and standards in key areas such as investment performance, costs and charges, and the quality of service that schemes must meet.

As part of this new framework, if these metrics and standards were not met, the Department for Work and Pensions has proposed giving the Pensions Regulator powers to take direct action to wind up consistently underperforming schemes. A consultation took place earlier this year, and the Government plan to set out next steps before the summer.

Turning to proposed new subsection (4)(b), I have already set out the forthcoming consultation to support increased investment in innovative companies and other productive assets by the Local Government Pension Scheme. Noble Lords may also be aware that the levelling up White Paper in 2022 included a commitment to invest 5% in levelling up. This consultation will go into more detail on how that will be implemented.

I turn to proposed new subsection (4)(c). The Government are committed to delivering high-quality infrastructure to boost growth across the country. We heard references in the debate to the UK Infrastructure Bank, which we will work with. The Treasury has provided it with £22 billion of capital. Since its establishment in 2021, it has done 15 deals, invested £1.4 billion and unlocked more than £6 billion in private capital. Furthermore, we have published our green finance strategy and Powering Up Britain, setting out the mechanisms by which the Government are mobilising private investment in the UK green economy and green infrastructure.

The Government wholeheartedly share the ambition of the amendment to see more pension schemes investing effectively in the UK’s high-growth companies for the benefit of the economy and pension savers. We agree with noble Lords on the importance of this issue. Where we disagree with noble Lords is on how crucial this amendment is to delivering it. Indeed, the Government are currently developing policies to meet these objectives, so legislating a review would pre-empt the outcome and might delay the speed at which the Government can make the changes necessary to incentivise investment in high-growth companies. Therefore, given all the work under way, I hope the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in this debate. The Minister’s response was not awful. It was encouraging to hear some of the things that she had to say, and we recognise the work the Government are leading on this issue. However, the benefit of taking the approach outlined in the amendment, notwithstanding some of the comments that have been made about it, is that it would give focus and prominence to this issue and would bring together some of the threads that the Minister referred to. It is an important piece of work that, given everything the Minister said, ought to be not too onerous and is something that the Government ought to be a little more enthusiastic about starting—because it needs to start. This is something we would like to see proceed quickly. I think there has been sufficient support for the amendment from all sides of the House, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 192, Noes 210.

Rhif adran 2 Financial Services and Markets Bill - Report (3rd Day) — Amendment 104

Ie: 190 Members of the House of Lords

Na: 208 Members of the House of Lords

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Amendment 104 disagreed.

Amendment 105 not moved.