Short title and commencement

Savings (Government Contributions) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 1 Tachwedd 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions) 9:25, 1 Tachwedd 2016

I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 6, page 3, leave out lines 36 to 39 and insert—

‘(2) This Act comes into force on the day after the establishment of an Independent Pensions and Savings Commission.’

This amendment would delay the commencement of the products until an independent pensions and savings commission is established.

The amendment would delay the commencement of the products until an independent pensions and savings commission was established. The Scottish National party has long called for the establishment of an independent pensions and savings commission to look at the crisis in saving for retirement. Following the success of the Turner commission, we should recognise that we need a standing commission to help us steer a long-term, sustainable path for pensions and savings. The Cridland commission is looking at the state retirement and pensionable age, which we welcome, but all such matters should be looked at holistically.

A commission of experts, free from political influence, could focus on all aspects of pensions and savings, with a view to delivering a universal pensions and savings system that enables dignity in retirement. Such a commission is needed to minimise politically motivated changes to pensions and savings, with the aim of eliminating complexity and perverse incentives. We have voiced our legitimate concerns that the Bill risks undermining pension savings and redirecting consumers to products that will not confer the greater level of benefits that pension savings offer. We need to pause and consider what we are seeking to achieve with pensions and other savings products, while making sure that we build confidence in pension savings in particular.

Malcolm McLean of Barnett Waddingham, the pensions consultant, who is a former head of the Pensions Advisory Service, said:

“Much of pension policy seems to be dictated by political expediency rather than the needs of consumers… Political time horizons are too short. Pension policy is controlled by a government whose agenda is short-term, yet pensions are a long-term issue.”

Chris Noon, a partner at the consultancy Hymans Robertson, also commented on the need to free pensions from the political system, saying:

“Political temptation to raid pensions in hard times is too great. We need less meddling and more long-term thinking. We need to get the best brains together to work out how we deal with longer term, intergenerational issues.”

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Good morning to you, Mr Wilson, and to the rest of the Committee.

As we have just heard, the amendment concerns the date from which the Bill will come into force as an Act. The hon. Gentleman has outlined his reasons for wanting a delay. The amendment would provide that the Act will not come into force until the day after the establishment of the independent pensions and savings commission he has just described.

Over the course of our deliberations in Committee, we have discussed why the schemes in the Bill are really positive steps for savers, so I will not go through those arguments at length again. The fundamental point is that we want both the lifetime individual savings account and Help to Save to become available to people as soon as possible. A delay would not be fair to the people who could have benefited from them. For example, delaying the lifetime ISA for a year would mean that people would miss out on the chance to save up to £4,000 into such an ISA and get a bonus of up to £1,000.

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

Will the Minister confirm that anyone who has the opportunity to enrol in an auto-enrolment pension is going to be better off doing that than investing in an ISA? That is one of the issues we are trying to determine with the amendment.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

To some extent, we are returning to a debate we had during last week’s proceedings. The products in the Bill are not designed to be an alternative to pensions. The Government could not have been clearer in expressing our strong support for auto-enrolment and pensions saving more generally. Help to Save is very much a product directed at people for whom there is very little choice available in the savings products that are currently on the market.

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

I apologise for coming back to this, but it is critical. My real worry is that there is nothing that will prevent someone from taking out a LISA and perhaps not taking out an automatic enrolment pension, when the latter would be best for their financial interests. My real concern with the LISA and its consequences is that we will end up with savers putting money into products that are, in this case, not fit for purpose.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

That takes us back to territory we have covered. I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s sincerity in putting forward his concerns, which he has expressed during debates on other amendments, but as I say, the Government are completely committed to auto-enrolment. We want to have a robust, functioning pension system, but there is also a need for complementary products.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Llafur, Luton North

I am strongly persuaded by the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. Indeed, I wish I had thought of his amendment before he did, but there we are. Is the Minister not concerned by all the issues raised in the evidence sessions last week about possible complexities and indecision by people who do not know whether to invest? A commission would clarify things for everyone, including us and the Government.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I rather take issue with that point. Commissions and reviews by nature tend to look at the broad sweep of policy and how policies interact; they could never offer specific advice for each individual. That is why we have the various advisory services—the Money Advice Service and its successor organisation—and why the Financial Conduct Authority will consider and offer advice on each individual product. Even making the slightly optimistic assumption that every member of the population would read such a commission’s outpourings, it would be unlikely to offer individual advice. I accept the general point that such things can often offer policy guidance in the long term, but that does not alter the fact that we want individuals to take advantage of the advice services that are available and to be guided by what the FCA says about individual products.

Most of the people who gave evidence to the Committee stressed that they saw the lifetime ISA as complementary to pensions. Help to Save is in much more of a standalone category. In all cases, everyone emphasised the Government’s commitment to auto-enrolment. I bring the Committee back to the figures that I gave last week: the rate of opt-out from auto-enrolment is around 9%, which is not just lower than originally expected, but lower than the amended figure.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Llafur, Luton North

I thank the Minister for her answer, but does she not accept that an objective and disinterested arm’s length body such as a commission would be preferable to either private financial advice, which may involve vested interests, or Government advice? I can see strong arguments for what the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber says.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

I thank the Minister for her contributions on this important point. Does she not recall that during the evidence sessions last week, Martin Lewis—I think it was him—and others said that some of the issues about confusion can be dealt with by prompting people during the sales process? That is the appropriate place to ensure that the right questions are asked. Does she agree that that is where the focus needs to be?

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Yes, I do. That is exactly right. I remind the Committee of the independent Financial Conduct Authority’s remit in this regard. Its role is to regulate the providers of policies to ensure, as is its ordinary remit, that they are transparent to consumers about the products that they are offering and that those products are sold with suitable safeguards in place. That is in addition to the Government publishing factual information about the lifetime ISA on and working with the Money Advice Service and its successor to ensure that appropriate information is available. I reiterate that if we want individuals to be well informed, those are the mechanisms by which an individual, with their individual circumstances, will be informed. I genuinely do not think that a commission is the way to look at advising each individual, because by its very nature, it cannot look at each person’s affairs, life and aspirations and say what is right for them. We need to give people individual advice.

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

I am very grateful to the Minister; she is being generous with her time. The whole point about a pensions and savings commission is not to look at each individual and give advice, but to ensure that we bring Government policy together and look holistically at all the issues affecting pensions and savings, deal with the fact that we have had so many gimmicks like these and get something that is right for the long term for those who wish to save for their pensions.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I do not accept that these are gimmicks. I do not think the hon. Gentleman means what he said about Help to Save. If we can help thousands of families to save money for a rainy day and stave off disaster, to which they are all too susceptible at the moment, that would be a very good thing, and all of us on the Committee could take pride in that.

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

To clarify, I am talking about the LISA. I have not made any reference to Help to Save in this regard. I am specifically addressing what I see as the shortcomings of the LISA.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Indeed, and we have debated that in previous sittings. The thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that the Government do not consult and are not reviewing things, and that Governments—I suspect he means Governments of all colours—have tinkered with these things. I do not accept the broad point. We have done consultations on Help to Save and the lifetime ISA came out of an extensive consultation on pension tax relief. It is worth noting that there was no clear consensus from that. It is not as if the truth is out there, and if we just have an enormous commission, we will come to one point of view that everyone agrees with. In this area, there is a lot of debate and contention, and therefore we are trying to find a way through that goes with the grain of human nature and common sense. That is why having the lifetime ISA as a complementary product to auto-enrolment or people’s other pension arrangements makes sense.

I will finish the point about Government reviews, because it is worth getting it on the record. We already hold all savings policy under review, particularly through the Budget process. Our commitment to reviewing policy is also evident in the review of the state pension age, which will be informed by the independent report led by John Cridland, and the upcoming review of automatic enrolment in 2017. The Government are not walking away from the important job of scrutinising how things land in reality, but I am not persuaded that the reasons the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber advanced for a delay are right in the context of these two products and this Bill.

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

Does the Minister accept that the Turner commission was a force for good and for change in pensions and savings in this country? Out of the Turner commission, we effectively got auto-enrolment, about which there was cross-party consensus in the House. That is what we seek to achieve by taking these issues away to a commission. That would create the circumstances in which we could all work together to improve the pensions and savings landscape in this country.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Let me try to wind this debate up on a note of consensus. Where we can achieve consensus on important long-term reforms—auto-enrolment is a very good example—it is wise to do so, but we are debating apples and pears here. The debate about what is the right way to go in the pensions and savings landscape over the next several decades is separate from, albeit related to, the Bill and the two products that we want to bring in to augment the available landscape of products for individuals in this country.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Llafur, Luton North

I want to reinforce the point that the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber made. The Turner commission was extremely valuable, because there was serious resistance from the Treasury. It was only because the Turner commission put its case so well and measured this so carefully that we got some positive change. Commissions can be extremely useful. As the Minister said, some of these issues are contentious.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I do not disagree that commissions can be useful; of course they can. A very good example has been cited. Neither am I arguing that we should not review things and seek, where we can with long-term things such as this, to get a degree of cross-party consensus. I referred to the review we have committed to on automatic enrolment. I am simply making the point that that debate is not relevant to the Bill. Delaying Help to Save for a year would mean people on low incomes missing out on the chance to save up to £600 in a Help to Save account and, of course, to benefit from a Government bonus.

As I say, we are debating two slightly separate issues. I think we all agree that these sorts of commissions and profound examinations of big issues often give rise to important things that achieve a degree of consensus, enabling us to move forward. However, that is not a relevant reason to delay the Bill, and that is why I reject the amendment. We heard in the evidence from StepChange that having £1,000 of rainy-day savings reduces the chance of falling into problem debt by 44%. Help to Save is a product that we have to get on with and not delay further.

I stress that we take an open approach to making pensions and savings policy and that we have approached these policies in an open and transparent way, as I have said. We will consult on the new financial guidance body later this year and, during the course of that consultation, there might well be a relevant moment to come back to some of the wider issues such as how we help individuals to make the right decisions for them. I have mentioned the automatic enrolment review, which will take place next year.

Those are better vehicles through which to have the debate we have just had and to get across some of the points that have been made, not all of which we would necessarily contest. I reject the amendment simply because it is not particularly relevant to the Bill. There is no need to delay the introduction of these two important schemes to establish a further commission.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Rhif adran 5 Christmas Tree Industry — Short title and commencement

Ie: 6 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 2