Pension schemes

Part of Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 9 Ionawr 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:15, 9 Ionawr 2018

My hon. Friend again makes an important point, and that arrow goes to the heart of things.

There are practical objections on the grounds that savers are not interested in, or capable of, engaging with their money, which simply perpetuates a vicious circle of disengagement. That is the passivity I talked about earlier—almost an institutional passivity on the part of savers. Savers may be put off by the language of investment, but that does not mean that they are not interested in where their money goes; they are.

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 the scheme behaves as an owner of major companies, or its policies on social, environmental and governance issues. We see that to an extent, in an institutional way, in the Church of England, among other organisations; it puts those things at the heart of its approach. Savers should be allowed to do that as well. Indeed, emphasising the positive contribution that schemes are making to a better economy, through their exercise of ownership rights, could be a way to engage people with saving money more widely.

The onus must be on the master trusts and the wider investment sector to take the lead in developing a clear and engaging investment strategy. Making such a strategy a requirement of registration with HMRC will ensure that no master trust will slip through the net. The recent local government pension scheme regulations follow a similar path and require the administration authorities to create investment statement strategies. There is no reason why that good practice cannot be extended to defined contribution schemes.

I turn to the reporting of costs and charges—a subject that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak touched on, and which is addressed in proposed new subsection (3) in amendment 41. For far too long, the pensions market has had a single glaring dysfunction: no one knows how much a pension pot costs. Members of this House would not go into a marketplace to buy anything without understanding the basic information relating to a product: its price, its essential properties, and the promises made about it. Strangely, this information, which is so fundamental to consumer choice and the operation of any market, remains largely absent in the pension market. Master trusts must establish what each investment choice costs and what their drawn-down product costs. Anything short of that is not helpful for millions of citizens.

We have a duty to ensure that a reporting line is open between a master trust, HMRC regarding a trust’s tax affairs, and the trust’s members on the costs they incur while saving for retirement. Again, Labour Members have campaigned for many years on this issue and it seems that the Government are beginning to catch up, not simply because of what we have been doing but also because of what Government Members and other organisations have been doing. We are not trying to claim all the credit; to some extent, this has been a team effort, right across the piece.

In the consultation on defined contribution pension schemes, under which master trusts operate, the Government requested evidence on how they might improve transparency in reporting information on the transaction costs and charges for members of workplace pension schemes. Amendment 41 would be a clear step forward, in line with the calls that we have been making alongside the industry, trustees, savers and Government Members, for transparency of costs and charges when it comes to pension savings. This issue affects us all.

I am afraid to say that the Government have seen fit to replace action with rhetoric here—a pattern that we see a little bit too often. However, I do not want to push that argument too much. We have to encourage and prod. The architecture to get the data, analyse it and present it is being discussed, with a view to its being built. It can be a platform from which other projects, including the value-for-money analysis needed for all workplace pensions, can be developed—and it can be delivered.

Amendment 41 helps to embed a process that is already under way, thanks in no small way to years of campaigning by many organisations and political parties. There is no reason why the Government should not take this opportunity to do something that is in line with their stated objectives. We must ensure that every person auto-enrolled into a master trust is given the opportunity to understand what pension system they are going into, how much it will cost and how much they will get. To do otherwise would be a clear breach of the fiduciary duty owed to scheme members.

The Financial Conduct Authority’s asset management market review said that evidence suggests that

“there is weak price competition in a number of areas of the asset management industry”,

which has a material impact on investors’ returns through their payment for asset management services. One of the FCA’s conclusions was that there should be a requirement for increased transparency, and standardisation of costs and charges information for institutional investors. That word “transparency” crops up time after time, for good reason.

The Government have agreed to implement the FCA’s recommendations in full. We can enshrine that guarantee in the Bill. Quite frankly, it is a fundamental market failure that no pension fund can understand its cost basis. If one does not understand costs, the investment strategy set out in proposed subsection (2) of amendment 41 cannot be evaluated.

It is also a sensible proposition that a scheme’s outgoings on costs and charges be evaluated during the process of tax registration by HMRC. The risk and responsibility will continue to rest with the pension saver; charges for ongoing administration and investment management will be deducted from their account—another reason why transparency and low charges are important.

If a scheme member loses money in retirement, it is extremely difficult—if not impossible—to get it back again, as their sources of income may be limited and a return to work might not be an option. Ultimately, members could run out of money. That has happened before with some of these schemes. The member is responsible for their decisions and the outcome the scheme generates. It is therefore essential that the member can see the cost of their pension pot. The efficient management of pension funds is critical to ensuring that we stave off a pensions crisis.