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Public Service Pensions Bill

Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2012

Consideration of Bill, as amended in Public Bill Committee

Before I call the Opposition Front Bencher to move new clause 2, I should tell the House that I have revised my provisional selection of amendments and moved amendments 29 to 31 and amendment 33, tabled by Dr Eilidh Whiteford, to the third group from the first group. A revised list will be circulated shortly. I hope that that information is helpful, not only to the hon. Lady, but, indeed, to the House.

New Clause 2

Member communications

‘(1) Scheme regulations for a scheme under section 1 shall provide for the provision of annual benefit statements to all members of the scheme.

(2) Benefit statements under subsection 1 shall show the following information—

(a) the member’s pension benefits earned to date;

(b) the projected annual pension and lump sum payments if the member retires at his normal pension age; and

(c) the member’s and employer’s current contribution rates.’.—(Chris Leslie.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 3—Fair deal

‘A member of a public service pension scheme is entitled to remain an active member of that scheme following—

(a) the compulsory transfer of his contract of employment to an independent contractor; and

(b) any subsequent compulsory transfer of his contract of employment.’.

Amendment 11, in clause 3, page 2, line 25, at end insert—

‘(5A) This Act shall not apply to scheme regulations relating to local government workers in Scotland unless the Scottish Parliament approves its application.’.

Amendment 12, in clause 7, page 4, line 29, at end insert—

‘(3A) A scheme under section 1 which replaces a final salary scheme may only be established as a career average revalued earnings scheme or a defined benefits scheme of such other description as Treasury regulations may specify.’.

Amendment 4, in clause 12, page 8, line 9, after ‘scheme manager’, insert ‘and employee representatives’.

Amendment 19, in clause 16, page 9, line 36, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

‘(1) New scheme regulations made under section 1 and 3 shall replace existing schemes’ current regulations and shall take effect on the amendment date.

(1A) Following the implementation of new scheme regulations under subsection (1), benefits shall only be provided in accordance with those new regulations.’.

Amendment 20,  page 10, line 5, leave out ‘closing’ and insert ‘amendment’.

Amendment 21,  page 10, line 6, leave out ‘1 April’ and insert ‘2 April’.

Amendment 32,  page 10, line 7, after ‘scheme,’, insert—

‘(aa) 1 April 2016 for a Scottish scheme,’.

Amendment 22,  page 10, line 8, leave out ‘5 April’ and insert ‘6 April’.

Amendment 23,  page 10, line 10, leave out ‘(1)’ and insert ‘(1A)’.

Amendment 24,  page 10, line 21, leave out ‘(1)’ and insert ‘(1A)’.

Amendment 25,  page 10, line 23, leave out ‘closing’ and insert ‘amendment’.

Amendment 26, page 10, line 27, at end insert ‘regulations’.

Amendment 27,  page 10, line 28, leave out ‘(1)’ and insert ‘(1A)’.

Amendment 28,  page 10, line 28, leave out from ‘benefits’ to ‘includes’.

Government amendment 35.

Amendment 7, in clause 28, page 15, line 12, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘must’.

Amendment 8,  page 15, line 12, after ‘new’, insert ‘defined benefit’.

Government amendments 36 to 39.

Having spent a considerable number of weeks serving on the Bill Committee, I am pleased that we now have the opportunity to press the Government on questions that remain unanswered and largely unaddressed. Considerable changes are being made to many of the public service pension schemes as a result of Lord Hutton’s report on the future shape of those schemes. The report was largely welcomed throughout the House and that has contributed greatly to the improvement of the reforms. However, a number of the report’s aspects have not been adopted in full by the Government in this Bill, and we are concerned about that.

New clause 2, the first in a considerable group of suggested changes specifically to pension schemes, would implement recommendation 18 on page 132 of the Hutton report that

“public service pension schemes should issue regular benefit statements to active scheme members, at least annually and without being requested”.

At present, defined benefit public service schemes are obliged to provide such information only if they are requested to do so. That limited obligation is set out in the Occupational Pension Schemes (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 1996, but normal occupational pension schemes that do not have an arrangement for either a final salary or career average payment at the end of the scheme are obviously a different state of affairs from defined contribution schemes. New clause 2 would simply implement Lord Hutton’s recommendation and ensure that public service workers have a better understanding of the benefits that they have accumulated to date and what they stand to receive if they continue working until their normal retirement age.

We had a very healthy debate on this matter in Committee, where the exchange of views did not follow the usual to-ing and fro-ing of partisan speechmaking. A number of Members agreed that it would be very healthy if we improved the information and transparency for employees to enable them to make more informed decisions in planning for their savings and their financial future. For example, members of the schemes would be better able to judge whether they were saving enough for their retirement. The new clause is therefore compatible with the aim of reducing people’s need for state benefits in retirement—something that many Members across the House want to achieve.

When we tabled a similar amendment in Committee, it gained quite a degree of vocal support. The hon. Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who are in the Chamber today, helpfully pressed the Minister to resist his usual logic, which says in big block capital letters, “This is an Opposition amendment; thou shalt resist this devious device by Labour Members to do something nasty in the legislation.” That was not our intention. We actually wanted to implement Lord Hutton’s recommendation and bring defined benefit schemes into the modern age, especially in respect of communicating more regularly and effectively with scheme members. I live in hope that those hon. Gentlemen will chip in and offer their support again, because surely the goal of improving people’s understanding of their pension and helping them to plan more effectively for their retirement should find favour on both sides of the House.

I will give way. In fact, I was just about the quote the hon. Gentleman. He said:

“If we want people genuinely to prepare for their pensions, we need to give them the maximum amount of information. Just suggesting that it is good practice without putting in place any requirement is the wrong thing to do.”––[Official Report, Public Service Pensions Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2012; c. 455.]

It gives me great pleasure to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I am flattered that the shadow Minister should pay such attention to my words. Does he agree that it is rather perverse that when taking out a pension, particularly a private pension, a customer has to read reams of documentation about the risks, the forecasts, the potential growth rates and what might or might not happen, but when one has a public service pension, that level of detail is not provided and, most importantly, the annual statement provides scant information, even if it is requested?

That is an anachronism that has to change. The hon. Gentleman is correct that just because somebody is in a public service scheme or a defined benefit scheme does not mean that they should not think through carefully what the financial consequences will be for them on retirement. This Bill is the perfect opportunity to take that small but significant step forward.

In Committee, the Minister initially went into rebuttal mode and said that we could not have the new clause for a number of reasons. At first, he said that there were different ways of providing information to members of the scheme, that we did not want to be too prescriptive and that legislation was not necessary. However, the new clause does not prescribe the manner in which the information is provided; it would merely ensure that annual statements were provided in some form.

The Minister’s other objection in Committee was that defined benefit schemes in the private sector are not obliged to provide annual statements, so it would not be right for public sector schemes to do so. However, Government Members again disagreed. I cannot do better than to quote again the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green:

“We have a pensions problem in this country, and saying that private sector schemes are not required to provide statements—though many do…—is not a good enough reason for not requiring public sector schemes to provide them.”––[Official Report, Public Service Pensions Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2012; c. 455.]

Amen to that excellent argument. The Minister said at the time that he would consider the issue further.

Last week, I wrote to the Minister saying that it was our intention to table new clause 2. I rather hoped that he would table his own variant. Usually, there are accusations that the Opposition have not thought through the drafting of the phraseology of an amendment and there is some technical reason why it cannot be accepted. However, we have offered the Minister the chance to correct that. It is a matter of great regret that the Minister did not come forward with his own new clause. Perhaps I should be more optimistic and assume that that means that the Minister will stand up and accept new clause 2 straight away. That would be fantastic.

It is worth noting that all defined contribution pension schemes are required by the 1996 occupational pension schemes regulations to provide much more detailed statements than those proposed in the new clause. There is therefore no reason to think that there would be any problem in implementing the arrangements.

It would be helpful if the Minister made this change. If he wants to do it in the House of Lords when the Bill gets down there, we could probably accept that, but I think that most Members would accept the change.

In Committee, we also talked about the risk of people with public sector pensions making the perverse decision not to contribute to their pension because they feel that the contribution rate is going up significantly, missing the fact that a significant contribution is being made to their pension scheme by the taxpayer. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the new clause would assist members of public sector pension schemes in identifying what a large contribution the taxpayer is making, and therefore help to reduce the number of people who take the irrational step of opting out of the pension scheme?

Even though the quality of the scheme has been eroded, as we saw with the unilateral imposition of the average 3% increase in employee contributions—that might even have been before Lord Hutton reported—they are still good defined benefit schemes and we encourage public sector members to stay in them. We have debated our concerns elsewhere over whether the viability of the schemes will be jeopardised by employees being deterred from joining or deciding to opt out. However, we encourage members to stay in the schemes. Unfortunately, the 3% additional contribution is not part of this legislation, so it would be outwith the scope of the Bill to table amendments on that or to debate it. That is a great shame.

It is important that annual benefit statements include not only the employee’s contribution, but the employer’s contribution, as set out in the new clause. If the defined benefit schemes are good, there is no reason not to have that level of clarity and transparency. I have no problem with accepting that that should be part of the information that is given to scheme members. I hope that the Minister will accept that.

New clause 3 is one of the most important proposals in this group. The Government promised to implement what is known as the new fair deal, which is one of the most important aspects of the agreement that was reached in the negotiations between the employee side and Government or employer side of the scheme. The new fair deal would ensure that all public service workers who were compulsorily transferred to an independent contractor, be it a private company, a charity or another third sector body, would be entitled to remain an active member of their public service pension scheme. That is a basic requirement and it was a core part of the agreement. We were glad that the Government committed to it.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury confirmed the Government’s commitment to the new fair deal in a written statement in July, which stated that

“the Government have reviewed the fair deal policy and agreed to maintain the overall approach, but deliver this by offering access to public service pension schemes for transferring staff. When implemented, this means that all staff whose employment is compulsorily transferred from the public service under TUPE, including subsequent TUPE transfers, to independent providers of public services will retain membership of their current employer’s pension arrangements.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2012; Vol. 547, c. 54WS.]

That is an improvement on the current fair deal arrangements, which ensure that outsourced staff receive broadly comparable arrangements to those under the public service schemes. The Government’s promise to implement the new fair deal was central to the rationale and at the heart of why many public service workers agreed to support the new proposed pensions reform, even though aspects of it were detrimental to them.

A few months ago in the Open Public Services White Paper, the Government expressed enthusiasm for transferring services to voluntary organisations and social enterprise—we have not heard so much about that recently. If that is to work, however, is it not particularly important to have the proposed provision on pensions?

Many public service workers whose services have been transferred to independent providers, whether they have been outsourced, find themselves in the voluntary sector or wherever, still want to ensure that their deferred wages—that is what pensions are—will be protected in a particular way. That was a positive development in the negotiations, but to what extent has such protection found its way into the Bill? That is why the Opposition are concerned and have tabled new clause 3.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the fair deal arrangements introduced in 1999 by the Labour Government were not statutory. Why was he happy to support and serve in a Government who had a non-statutory approach to the fair deal, but in opposition he seeks to make that approach statutory?

The situation now is different because of the level of trust on which public service employees feel tested when looking at significant changes by the Government. Employee contributions were unilaterally increased by 3% without consultation or discussion—that was simply imposed, even though Lord Hutton was putting measures through. The evaluation arrangement was unilaterally changed from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index. A typical public service employee must have said, “Hold on a minute. Are we supposed to just take this on faith? We are glad that the Government are in negotiations, but as we know, Ministers are here today and gone tomorrow.” In no way do I cast aspersion on the Economic Secretary who I am sure will remain on the Front Bench in days to come. However, we cannot simply rely on statements from particular Ministers at a particular point in time.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about trust, which is critical following the experience of many public service workers and Government decisions on pensions. Does he not underplay the importance of the fair deal? He described it as a positive development in the negotiations, but for many public service workers and their unions it was not just a positive development but a deal maker that allowed them to accept a package which, as he said, was detrimental in other areas. It was important that people took that provision as a clear guarantee, but doubt has now been cast on it, which underlines the importance of including it in the Bill and therefore the importance of new clause 3.

My right hon. Friend is correct. When we get a sense of the Government pulling the odd thread here or there or watering down elements of the provision—if I may mix my metaphors—it is no wonder that people start to question whether the words of Ministers at a particular point in time will carry through into what should be a 25-year commitment as set out in legislation. The provision was part of those negotiations but it has not found its way into the Bill.

Even more worryingly, the Economic Secretary made some peculiar statements in Committee about something that we thought was a done deal. He said:

“it is important that we consider in full the views of all stakeholders, including of course those who will be affected, through further consultation before making a final decision on the issue. It would therefore be inappropriate to include the fair deal policy in the Bill.”––[Official Report, Public Service Pensions Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2012; c. 459.]

It is as though negotiations had not been completed or decisions reached. Indeed, it sounded very much as if the Government were reneging on their commitment.

The Government need to lay to rest any suggestion that they are going back on their promise, and the only way to do that is to accept new clause 3. Failure to do so risks reopening debates and potential disputes with public service workers who will—justifiably—feel they have been misled.

Part of the concern and need to write such provisions into the Bill comes from the fact that no one predicted clause 3. It has been described as a Henry VIII clause, as it gives sweeping powers to Ministers to legislate on schemes through statutory instruments or even retrospectively.

Indeed; we will debate some of the worst aspects of clause 3 later. It feels as though when writing the Bill Ministers did not consider it as enshrining an arrangement involving give and take on both sides. They have included certain things to the advantage of the employer, but there are scant—if any—safeguards of sufficiency and longevity for the employee, and that is causing anxiety.

My hon. Friend is making an important argument in response to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). It is not just that the Bill includes certain things that advantage employers; the measures are principally to the advantage of the Treasury, which is given the whip hand and ultimate say over schemes that should be run by their members and managers accountable to them.

My hon. Friend quoted the Economic Secretary in Committee. When the Minister rises to his feet, is it not important that he explain the discrepancy between what he said in Committee and what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said to this House in December last year? He said:

“Because we have agreed to establish new schemes on a career average basis, I can tell the House that we have agreed to retain the fair deal provision and extend access for transferring staff.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 1203.]

There is a big difference between those two statements and the Economic Secretary needs to explain himself on that point.

Order. Before the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) replies, let me say that although I have indulged the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) on this occasion I hope he will not repeat such a long intervention. I do not want him to induce the hon. Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) into following bad habits. That would be a very undesirable state of affairs.

It may be a bad habit but it was a jolly good intervention. I do not often do this, but I commend my right hon. Friend for quoting the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. What is the difference between the Chief Secretary and the Economic Secretary? Well, one is a Liberal Democrat and the other a Conservative. However, my right hon. Friend should take that with a pinch of salt, as I too have a quote from the Chief Secretary, who said that

“establishing a relationship of trust and confidence between the Government and public service workers is critical to the success of these reforms.”

How long will this coalition Government persist? What we need is not just a commitment from a Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury whose parliamentary and ministerial career might not endure. We need to know what would happen should there be the dreadful set of circumstances of a Conservative majority Administration. Would a promise on the new fair deal, given only verbally by Ministers, endure in such circumstances?

Given the Minister’s trajectory and career momentum, I want to hear a commitment from him to the new fair deal on behalf of the Conservative party. That might mean something, although I would still prefer to see it in the Bill. It would be invidious for the Government to speak against new clause 3, let alone vote against it if we decided to test the opinion of the House. I am conscious of the time so I will move on.

Amendment 11 relates to issues of local government workers in Scotland and would exclude the Scottish local government pension scheme from the Bill, unless agreed to by the Scottish Parliament. Primary legislation on public service pension schemes has always been reserved to the UK Parliament. Scottish Ministers have had responsibility for regulations for public service schemes but those have been subject to Treasury approval and have tended to mirror arrangements for England and Wales. The exception is the Scottish local government pension scheme, which is a funded scheme that has not been subject to Treasury approval in the past. The Bill extends certain prescriptions to the design of the Scottish local government pension scheme that, in practice, have previously been left to Scottish Ministers to negotiate and decide—most importantly, they negotiated and decided on normal pension age; that benefits should be based on career-average revalued earnings and not final salary; on the cost cap, as it is known; and on rules for governance and fund valuations.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Scottish Government can find the ways and means to fund their pensions, they should be free from penalties from the Treasury at Westminster?

That comes down to how the legislation is drafted. There are different financial consequences for local government pension schemes than for other public service pension schemes. That is why we need clarity in the legislation. I am conscious that the Scottish National party Government in Scotland have argued that there is no need for a legislative consent motion to cover the matter because, in theory, the UK Parliament always had primary legislative power over the local government pension scheme in Scotland but has hitherto chosen not to use it. The Government in Scotland have been quick to accept the UK’s proposals, which is unusual, because they normally argue that more power should sit with Holyrood. The movement of the regulation-making powers means that the Scottish Government will not need to grapple with difficult decisions on the reform of certain pensions, but the Opposition feel it would be better for Members of the Scottish Parliament to have an opportunity to scrutinise and debate the application of the legislation to the local government pension scheme in Scotland. Amendment 11 to clause 3 would mean that the Bill would not apply to the local government pension scheme in Scotland unless that is explicitly approved by the Scottish Parliament. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) and others have tabled parallel amendments—I gather they are in the third group, so we will probably return to this debate later.

Amendment 12, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), relates to another key Government promise made to public service workers. It seeks to enshrine in the legislation another Government promise made to public service workers—the Government promised that their final salary schemes would be replaced with career-average revalued earnings schemes. That would ensure that public service workers continue to receive a defined benefit pension.

The Bill does not explicitly honour that promise, and clause 7 provides that schemes created under the Bill can be defined benefit or defined contribution schemes, or any scheme of any other description. That is fundamental to the arguments on the Bill, but it is also fundamental to the arguments that Hutton made and the agreements that were reached. All schemes were supposed to be succeeded by career-average defined benefit schemes. In some cases, the Government might like to continue small defined contribution schemes, but the amendment would not affect those; it would apply only to final salary schemes and ensure that they are replaced with another defined benefit arrangement. The amendment therefore simply seeks to put the Government’s promise to public service workers on a statutory footing.

A similar amendment was opposed in Committee, but the reasons given by the Minister were concerning. He claimed that the Government intended to replace the final salary schemes with career-average schemes, but that “the flexibility embedded in” the Bill

“could be helpful to scheme members in future.”

He added that

“it would not be appropriate for this Government to tie the hands of future generations and pension scheme members who might decide that, subject to the protection offered by the enhanced consultation and reporting obligations of clause 20, defined benefit schemes were no longer the most appropriate for public service workers.”––[Official Report, Public Service Pensions Public Bill Committee, 13 November 2012; c. 291-92.]

That is not the first time we have heard the Minister’s bizarre argument that legislation could bind the hands of future Governments. No Government can bind the hands of their successors in that way. Unless the Minister has an insight into changes in the democratic process of which we are unaware, that remains absolutely the case.

Therefore, the argument that clause 7 provides welcome flexibility to scheme members now or in future is, in the Opposition’s view, potentially misleading. In the rare circumstances that a defined contribution scheme is better than the defined benefit one, and scheme members and the Government wish to change schemes to defined contributions schemes, clauses 19 and 20 allow that to happen. Clause 7 provides no flexibility that does not exist in clauses 19 and 20. If we do not make the amendment, we allow the Government to go back on their promises. We seek to keep them to their word on those arrangements.

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak to proposals in this large group, so I shall make my final point on the question of closing local government pension schemes. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) and the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), among others, have had extensive experience of local government schemes. In Committee, there was anxiety that the Bill mentions closing existing LGP schemes and beginning new ones. The problem with closing schemes is that there can be unintended and adverse consequences. We heard in Committee about triggering debts which might need to be crystallised on closure. Of course, not just big local authorities but small academies, charities and others are members of such schemes. They might find that they suddenly need to shell out one great lump of money simply because an existing scheme closes and the deficit needs to be dealt with there and then.

The Minister assured us that regulatory provisions did not require such crystallisation, and that there could be protections. The Opposition are not massively happy with that, but even if we accept the Minister’s word that closure does not mean closure, thousands of employers in the local government pension fund have individual admission agreements governing the terms of their participation—the agreements are not necessarily in a standard form, meaning that there could be thousands of different admissions contracts for the schemes. It is likely that at least some of the agreements will set out various powers for local authorities in the event of closure, including the power to collect a debt from the employer equal to its share of the scheme’s deficit. That would put a massive strain on participating employers and could put some of them out of business.

The Minister gave assurances on some of those points in Committee, but he missed the problem that the Bill allows local authorities to close their funds. The Government cannot prevent them from doing so under the Bill. The problem of triggering debts therefore remains substantive. There is also the question of whether closure means closure or continuing a scheme. The Opposition believe that a different approach is needed and that the Bill needs better drafting, which is why we have tabled amendments 20 to 28. We are not trying to add costs to the public purse and are keeping the Government’s proposals, but we are saying that it would be better to amend an existing scheme rather than to close and reopen it. They are in some ways technical proposals, but it would be better to err on the side of caution and provide that new regulations can amend scheme rules to ensure that all future benefits are accrued according to the provisions of the Bill and negotiated arrangements.

Those are essentially my comments on the Opposition’s proposals. My hon. Friends and others have tabled amendments in this group, but I shall let them make the case for them.

I rise to speak briefly to Opposition new clause 3, which is on fair deal arrangements. Hon. Members will be aware that fair deal arrangements were originally addressed by Lord Hutton in his interim report in October 2010. Hutton was concerned that the arrangements at that time created barriers to the plurality of public service provision. He said:

“At present, when employees are transferred to non-public service bodies, the organisation they move to is required to ensure that there is ‘broadly comparable’ pension provision for future service, through the Fair Deal provisions…This arrangement has maintained the level of pension provision for those compulsorily transferred out of the public sector. However…this can make it harder for private sector and third sector organisations to provide public services because providing a ‘broadly comparable’ defined benefit pension scheme can be significantly more expensive and risky for private sector organisations than for public sector employers.”

That was the starting point of the debate. In box 1.A—a shaded box, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) will be intrigued to know—Lord Hutton concluded:

“Ultimately, it is for the Government to consider carefully the best way of moving forward with Fair Deal in a way that delivers its wider objective of encouraging a broader range of public service providers while remaining consistent with good employment practices.”

My principal concern, fresh from the doorsteps of Corby, is for the many individual members of the pension scheme. In his extensive piece of work, Lord Hutton considered the future of public service reform and the relationships between the public and private sectors. What I am most concerned about in the debate today and in supporting the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on the fair deal, is giving an assurance to those individuals in Corby and East Northamptonshire—cleaners and nurses and so on—that the goalposts will not be constantly shifted away from what they expect from their pension. From the 3p in the pound change to the RPI to CPI change, they feel buffeted by huge changes that are really affecting them at the moment. That is why we need the assurance in the Bill.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) on his election to the House. His intervention indicates the seriousness with which he takes his new role. I am grateful for that and I take his point. All of us on the Government Benches want to ensure that we have sustainable, good-quality defined benefit pensions in the public sector, but to achieve that there has to be major reform to public service pensions for a raft of reasons to do with longevity, cost, poor performance of the stock market in the past 12 years and tax changes that occurred in 1997. For all those reasons, if we are to have good-quality, defined benefit pensions for public service employees, there have to be major reforms.

The Government have been clear, open and transparent in the negotiating process, and an ample number of documents are circulating that set out precisely the conclusion to the negotiations, not least the proposed final agreements. The idea that without changing primary legislation the Government can somehow slip through major changes to the quality of benefits to the employees, which the hon. Gentleman is talking about, is just not in the real world. All Governments have to behave reasonably, and this Government are no different from any other. Not only have they behaved reasonably in these negotiations, but, I believe, they have given rise to high-quality public service pension arrangements that offer benefits way beyond the arrangements in the private sector. That is a sign that the Government recognise the important contribution that public sector employees make to our society.

I point the hon. Gentleman to the consultation on the new deal that took place between March and June 2011. That was a broad consultation, to which there were more than 100 responses. In July this year, in a written ministerial statement, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury stated:

“the Government have reviewed the fair deal policy and agreed to maintain the overall approach, but deliver this by offering access to public service pension schemes for transferring staff…this means that all staff whose employment is compulsorily transferred from the public service under TUPE…to independent providers of public services will retain membership of their current employer’s pension arrangements.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2012; Vol. 547, c. 54WS.]

That is on the record and should provide the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House with the assurance they need.

We hear what the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury says, but can the hon. Gentleman, as a Conservative MP, give us a guarantee that that would also be the case under a future Conservative Government?

Alas, I no longer speak on behalf of the Government, but that is a commitment given by Ministers of this coalition Government. The hon. Gentleman is trying to create a division between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats in our approach to public service pension reform, and there is no such division. There is no such difference in attitude between the two parties on public service reform.

I rise to support the hon. Gentleman. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, the House and the public have a right to take at face value the words of a Chief Secretary—a Chief Secretary is a Chief Secretary is a Chief Secretary. That is a statement of Government policy and of coalition Government intent. Therefore, I think the onus is not on the hon. Gentleman, but on the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to explain why his statement is different from the Chief Secretary’s statement.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend and to the Chief Secretary and I did not find any difference. My hon. Friend was addressing whether particular matters should be in primary legislation; the Chief Secretary was setting out the case for the policy.

On teachers’ pensions, there was anxiety that the current arrangements, under which teachers in the independent sector can be members of the teachers’ pension scheme if their employer signs up to the scheme, might be put in jeopardy by the words of Lord Hutton’s interim report, so the Chief Secretary’s statement was welcome news to teachers. Paragraph 8 of the proposed final agreement states:

“the Government agrees to retain Fair Deal provision and extend access to public service pension schemes for transferring staff. This means that all staff whose employment is compulsorily transferred from maintained schools (including academies)…under TUPE…will…be able to retain membership of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme when transferred.”

That is welcome news. The agreement goes on to state:

“The Government’s decision on Fair deal means that…independent schools which already have access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme will continue to do so (for existing and new teachers); and new teachers and independent schools will continue to be able to join the scheme under the existing qualifying criteria.”

When we debated the issue in Committee, the hon. Member for Nottingham East conceded that the new fair deal

“is an improvement on the current fair deal arrangements”,

but, as he has just now, he complained that

“the promise does not appear in the Bill.”––[Official Report, Public Services Pensions Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2012; c. 458.]

He will be aware, however, that the fair deal arrangements were non-statutory when they were introduced in 1999, and that they remained non-statutory when they were revised in 2004. Notwithstanding the fact that the new fair deal arrangements are an improvement on the old ones, if it is good enough for a Labour Government for the policy to be non-statutory, it ought to be good enough for the hon. Gentleman. As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear in Committee, the recently published Government response to the fair deal consultation included draft guidance setting out how the new policy would work in practice. Given all the public statements by my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and the published guidance and consultation documents, the hon. Gentleman should be assured by the commitments given.

Does the hon. Gentleman not understand the sense of anxiety that many public sector employees feel? Their trust was shattered because of the unilateral decisions on RPI to CPI and the 3%. They are saying, “Don’t we need more safeguards?” Can he understand why they would want safeguards now that might not have been necessary in the past?

Of course, that is an assertion by the hon. Gentleman. I do not recognise that crushing of confidence. What the Government had to do when they came into office was tackle a huge public sector deficit of £156 billion, and they have done that. As a consequence of the difficult decisions the Government have taken, the capital markets have been assured that the Government are getting the public finances under control. That itself should assure beneficiaries of public service pensions that the Government will put the public finances in a stable condition and so avoid the need for the sort of draconian changes to public service pensions being implemented in other European countries as they seek, rather belatedly, to tackle their public deficits.

Why does the hon. Gentleman think that that is a comfort, given that, as far as we can see, the Government’s deficit reduction plans are failing and debt is rising? In the light of that, many public service workers might well expect another bite at the cherry.

I fear that we are straying slightly from new clause 3 and the group of amendments, but I believe that the Government’s economic strategy is right. It is a judgment call, but one that I believe has been proven right by the fact that the Government’s borrowing cost for 10-year bonds, as they seek to fund the deficit, which has been reduced by a quarter over the last two and a half years, is 1.8%. That is a tribute to the difficult judgments Treasury Ministers have made, and they should be given credit for their achievements. As a consequence, however, there have had to be increases in the contribution rates of active members of public service pension schemes. In addition, Lord Hutton believes that even if there was not a deficit, major reform of public service pensions would still be needed, if they are to be sustainable in the long run.

The Government’s commitment to sustainable public finances is of more concrete value than a proposal from a party with a track record of undermining the public finances. Ultimately, in a pay-as-you-go public service pension scheme, the quality and assurance that members want will depend on the ability of the Government to maintain stable public finances.

I rise to speak to the amendments in my name: amendments 4, 7 and 8.

Throughout the progress of the Bill, I have tabled a series of amendments with a central thrust—the same one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie)—which is about trust. The amendments would ensure that at each stage and for each grouping, there would be full consultation with and the full involvement of representatives of employees and scheme members. I apologise: I should have declared an interest as a member of the local government pension scheme. Nevertheless, each amendment would address the issue of confidence and secure a recognition, as promised by the Government, that employees will be fully consulted and represented and kept fully informed of changes to their pension schemes, which has not been the case up to now.

It is worth remembering that the pension deal was not a deal for a large number of unions; for more than 1 million workers, it was imposed. The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, the National Union of Teachers, the Public and Commercial Services Union, the Prison Officers Association, the University and College Union and Unite did not agree to the deal or the heads of agreement; instead, the deal was imposed upon them. There is deep scepticism amongst workers, and if Government Members do not recognise that, they are not living in the real world, or encountering the same constituents I am, or receiving the letters I get from police officers, teachers and local government workers across the piece.

Even organisations that signed up to the heads of the deal are now expressing concerns. The British Medical Association, whose briefing Members will have received, thought it had signed up to an assurance from the Government, which I remember being made, that there would be a 25-year guarantee of no change around a number of protected issues. The Government said:

“This means that no changes to scheme design, benefits or contribution rates should be necessary for 25 years outside of the processes agreed for the cost cap. To give substance to this, the Government intends to include provisions on the face of the forthcoming Public Service Pensions Bill to ensure a high bar is set for future Governments to change the design of the schemes. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will also give a commitment to Parliament of no more reform for 25 years.”

Yet clause 3, described in briefings by the Royal College of Nursing, the BMA and others as a Henry VIII clause, gives extraordinary powers to the Secretary of State to return to these issues, introduce further reforms and make fairly significant changes through statutory instruments, not primary legislation to be debated in the House. Consequently, there is a lack of confidence in the words of Ministers, particularly given that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said, those words are contradictory, not just across Government, but within the same Department. It is extraordinary.

Others also signed the deal. The RCN wrote to us explaining its concerns:

“Clause 3(3) is a Henry VIII clause which enables the Government to amend the Act at a later date through the use of secondary legislation. The RCN is concerned that, as a result, the Bill gives powers to the UK Government to amend and make retrospective provisions to any other related legislation without sufficient member consultation or scrutiny by Parliament.”

I also received a letter from Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which also signed up to the deal. She wrote:

“As you may know, the ATL accepted the Government’s proposed final agreement on changes to the teachers pension scheme as the best that could be achieved through negotiations. We now find the Bill contains additional elements that go beyond what was agreed in March 2012 and believe that the proposed changes could adversely and unfairly affect the quality of education that the nation’s children receive in our schools.”

Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern among police officers, highlighted last week in an excellent Westminster Hall debate led by our right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)? Many police officers feel that the arrangements they have made for their later life and approach to retirement—for doing things such as helping their children to get into housing or paying their university fees—have been completely undermined by changes that have pulled the rug from under them right at the end of their working life, after they have made an incredible contribution to keeping our communities safe. It is those kinds of people we must think about today as we make these changes. As my hon. Friend says, we must give them much greater confidence and assurance.

I fully concur with my hon. Friend. I received—perhaps he did too—an e-mail from Inspector Nick Smart, who wrote:

“I am a serving police inspector in West Yorkshire of 17 years. I am about to see my life plans thrown into chaos with the proposed pension changes, with my retirement age extended by at least two years plus a 20% cut in my lump sum—about £40,000—and a significantly worse annual pension.”

It is no wonder that people are demoralised and do not trust the Government. They thought there was at least a 25-year guarantee, but we now know that that is not the case, because the Government are giving themselves the power to change schemes at will in the future.

The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will be aware of the indication that teachers will be asked to pay 50% of their contributions up until 2015, and they are not even safeguarded beyond 2015. Does he agree that, if the Government are not careful, they will create a breeding ground for discontent among teachers?

Exactly, but I think it is across the piece. Whether or not we agreed with the last negotiations, or whether they were imposed or signed up to, at least some people felt there was some security for the future. People are becoming demoralised, which is why it is important that we insert in the Bill provisions for full consultation and agreement with organisations representing employees and for full openness and transparency. That is why new clause 3, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, is critical. As has been said, at least in the private sector there is full display and transparency in what people sign up to, but there is no display or transparency in the public sector, particularly now that the Government have given themselves these powers.

Given the comments about the police pension scheme, I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands the wish of the Scottish Police Federation that police pensions be controlled independently in Scotland. For England and Wales, however, does he feel that in future Governments should act more morally in relation to the terms of agreements that were made years before and under which police officers expect to retire, while also understanding, of course, that in Scotland they want clear of the system?

I can fully understand the feelings of police officers in Scotland, as I can those of officers across England and Wales. People now just want safety and security in their pensions, which are theirs—they have paid for them and contributed to them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said from the Front Bench, they are nothing more than deferred wages.

I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s point. He is absolutely right that firefighters, prison workers, doctors and nurses contribute to their pensions, but so do taxpayers. Indeed, a considerable amount of most public pensions is paid for by the taxpayer. If he wishes to push the point about certainty, does he agree that the Government should have considered a fully funded pension scheme, rather than rely on future taxpayers to pay for future pensions, with all the uncertainty about whether they will be able to afford it? Should the Government not have grasped the nettle and gone for a fully funded pension scheme now?

The local government scheme is fully funded, yet the Government seek to interfere with that, too. If we are to open up the debate, let us do so; however, the Government seem to be making piecemeal reforms for their own economic objectives and then not even standing by them. The problem is the uncertainty.

Let me turn to the detail of amendment 4. As those of us who have been involved in pension negotiations will know, one of the most important elements is ensuring that the valuation process is right, because that is what determines not just the future payouts from the scheme, but its future security; there are also probity issues. I am concerned that the legislation as drafted would give no role to employees or their representatives in the revaluation system. My amendment 4 is a mild-mannered amendment to provide that the valuation report should be sent not just to the scheme manager and the employer, but to the employees’ representatives. That would promote at least some openness and transparency, which might reassure participants in the scheme.

Few pension decisions are more important to employees than the contribution levels, which stem from the valuation process. We have seen a unilateral change in contribution rates, which I think, to be frank, will deter many people from participating in those schemes and may throw the long-term future of those schemes into jeopardy. If there has been a valuation, the report should be sent to the employees’ representatives. It should be open and transparent, and it should then be possible to have a discussion about the valuation. That is what amendment 4 seeks to do. It simply says that the report should be sent not just to the scheme manager, but to the employee representatives, and that the terms of the revaluation should be mutually agreed. It is simply about participation.

Would the hon. Gentleman, like me, put this issue in the same area as transparency and giving information to people in pension schemes, which will help people to make better judgments? Just as we heard when new clause 2 was being moved, the provision of information about what is in their pension or how that is assessed helps people to make rational decisions.

That is exactly right. There has to be openness and transparency. The point has already been made, but some of us will now have to go out there and campaign to keep people in these schemes. The way to do that is by having openness and transparency about what they are paying in, the benefits being made and, I agree, the overall contribution made by taxpayers.

I fear for the future. We have seen the Fire Brigades Union survey of what would happen if there were increases in pension contributions to those workers’ scheme and also a reduction in benefits. Some 30% told the survey that they would question whether they wished to continue in the scheme. A 30% withdrawal rate would undermine some of those schemes. That is why openness and transparency are important. One of the key areas for openness and transparency is in the valuation process, with the terminology and methodology agreed with the employee representatives, so that they have confidence that the process is being conducted fairly, openly and, to be frank, professionally. In addition, once the revaluation is done, the report should be provided to the employee representatives. I can see nothing in that with which the Government could disagree.

The hon. Gentleman is right that many of us might well have to campaign to ensure that people invest in and stick with these schemes, but even if we get valuation and transparency right, is there not a “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza” syndrome with these Henry VIII powers? People will say, “You can say all that, but you can’t promise that it will be so when I reach pension age.”

I fully agree. What concerns me is that the Henry VIII powers in clause 3 are retrospective. This is another reason why the valuation process is so critical: if there is not full openness, transparency and consultation, in particular with employee representatives, the Government could in future use the valuation process to withdraw some of the benefits of the scheme or increase the contributions retrospectively. People can sign up to a scheme and pay into it for 20 years, but then be told that the benefits are different—although I think that will be tested in law, because I believe that legally we are talking about accrued rights that are protected under European legislation. The Government do not accept that argument, but it is a critical point. That is why I have tabled my amendments. The Government underestimate the anxiety and fears out there—particularly among trade unions, but also in other organisations—which arise from the lack of confidence in the future management of the schemes in the best interests of employees and members.

Let me turn to my amendments 7 and 8. The Government’s reform was meant to change the nature of the schemes, so that they would be based on career averages, exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said from the Front Bench. However, that is for a defined benefit scheme, not a defined contribution scheme, yet the Government have not committed themselves to that in the legislation. That is why I have tabled amendments 7 and 8, so that where a scheme is rearranged or staff are transferred into a new scheme, they must be defined benefit schemes, because that is what was promised in the negotiations with the trade unions. It is argued that we are binding future Governments, but all legislation is meant to bind future Governments, and any future Government could revisit this matter. At the same time, we need to try to give at least some security and ensure that the promises given by the present Government are adhered to. That is not much to ask, and it is all my amendments are designed to do.

The hon. Gentleman puts his finger exactly on the issue: insecurity for future pensioners. That, combined with ever-growing inequality in our society and the economic multipliers that we might see operating, means that people who are now living quite comfortably might be facing penury in their old age, due to the root insecurity at the base of this Bill, which he is doing a good job of exposing.

In part, this is linked to other reforms that the Government are introducing—my hon. Friend the shadow Minister touched on this. Where changes have been made to the delivery of public services—some of this relates to outsourcing, reorganising government or delivering direct services through new Government agencies or public bodies—people understood that there would be a commitment from the Government that they would be transferred into the same scheme they are in now, which would be a defined benefit scheme. That is not in this Bill, which is why I have tabled my amendments.

The amendments put the onus on whatever bodies are established—non-departmental public bodies or whatever—to ensure that they offer a defined benefit scheme. If they do not, they are breaking the commitment that the Government gave. In addition, it will create a disincentive. When staff transfer, they transfer into the new scheme that will be established. Many people now in a defined benefit scheme—whatever its nature, whether final or average salary, although we are moving towards average salary—fear that if at some stage they move, they will be offered only a defined contribution scheme. That is why I want more certainty in the legislation. The amendments propose that whatever happens in the future, whatever restructuring the Government bring in and whatever new schemes are established, the Government will adhere to their promise that there must be a defined benefit scheme. I do not want to be cataclysmic about this, but if that does not happen, the legislation could undermine the whole provision of public service pensions. People could start to withdraw from the schemes because they did not have the certainty that they thought they had when they entered them.

The amendments might seem relatively minor, but they are absolutely key. If we do not bring the employees with us, if we do not consult their representatives, if we do not involve them in the valuation process and if we do not stand by the guarantee of a defined benefit scheme that they have been given, we will break down people’s confidence in the public sector pensions system overall, and we will certainly break down their confidence in this Government’s ability to adhere to their promises. This is not the 25-year guarantee of no further reform that we were given from the Dispatch Box only a matter of weeks ago.

I am always delighted to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). He and I have been circling around issues of local government finance and pensions for—

I have worked it out; it must be well over 30 years in chambers of one kind or another around London. We do not always come to the same conclusions, but I take on board the expertise that he brings to this topic. I agree with his point that it is important, when dealing with the schemes that he and I have been involved with, to give the members of the schemes an assurance that they will have a secure pension in future.

I have spent most of my life dealing with the local government pension scheme, and I am going to talk about that today. Indeed, I should declare an interest as a member of that scheme. I recognise that change often raises concern and creates a measure of insecurity, and it is the job of those of us who have governance of these schemes, locally and nationally, to deal with that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) pointed out, however, the biggest cause of insecurity and the biggest risk to scheme members would be the lack of a secure financial basis for the future of the scheme. That is why the Government’s reforms are necessary; that is the most important reassurance that we can give to people.

There are other important points that we can take on board in the context of the amendments, and I want to talk about the local government schemes in particular. It has already been recognised in the House that they fall into a different category because of their substantially funded nature, which places them in a different position, and because of the considerable diversity within the sector. There are a number of schemes involved, and they generally have a good management track record and a system of management that creates transparency and democratic accountability. I hope that we can ensure that the regulations that will finally embody the schemes will recognise those differences.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) that we should take at face value the assurances given by those on the Treasury Bench, and I have no hesitation in doing so. I put it as gently as possible when I say that there has been a degree of needless raising of concern among scheme members, perhaps—dare I say it?—for partisan reasons. That is unhelpful.

The hon. Gentleman is urging us to take at face value the statements from those on his Front Bench. Let me tell him what the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said in Committee about the concerns over the fair deal. He said that

“it is important that we consider in full the views of all stakeholders, including of course those who will be affected, through further consultation before making a final decision on the issue.”––[Official Report, Public Services Pensions Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2012; c. 459.]

I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, taken at face value, that suggests that the final decision has not yet been taken, contrary to the agreements reached with the trade unions on pensions reform.

The right hon. Gentleman will know, as a former local government Minister, that there has already been considerable consultation and discussion on the shape of the local government schemes. In any event, there is to be a formal consultation as well. I do not read the same connotations into the Minister’s words as the right hon. Gentleman does. That is not my reading of the discussions to which I was party when I was a Minister. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we should be as transparent and upfront as possible in our discussions with scheme members.

We need to move from our previous position, which was not financially sustainable, towards a better place. It is perfectly reasonable for my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues to be doing precisely that. I hope that, in so doing, they will recognise that the local government employers and unions have come to an agreement that meets the Government’s cost parameters. In my judgment, it also broadly reflects the particular circumstances and differences of the scheme.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that, even though the scheme will, for perfectly legitimate public policy reasons, require the sign-off of the Treasury, the ultimate shape of the scheme will be strongly informed by the particular expertise that exists in the local government world and among those who advised me in the Department for Communities and Local Government on the particular nature of these pension schemes and the best way to take these matters forward. I am prepared to accept that that can be done, and it is important that it should be done. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to reassure us on that point.

The other short points that I want to make involve technical issues. There is still time for us to consider some potential unintended consequences of the legislation, which it would not be inconsistent with the objectives of the Bill to resolve.

I should have declared my interest as a member of the local government pension scheme when I first intervened. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that one of the technical issues, as those on our Front Bench have pointed out, is that the language we use should allude to the amendment of the schemes rather than to their closure? If the local government pension schemes that are currently in deficit were to be closed, the employers involved would immediately become liable to pay those deficits. That could have a hugely disruptive effect not only on the people receiving pensions now and in the future but on the local authorities themselves and the public services that they provide.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his arrival in the House. I have been dealing with him in the local government world for many years. I did my best to prevent him from coming here, but it clearly was not quite enough! He anticipates one of the technical issues that I was going to mention, and it is perhaps the most substantial one. Chronologically, it is not the first in relation to the Bill, but I might as well deal with it now for the sake of completeness.

I read with care the assurance that my hon. Friend the Minister gave in Committee. I entirely accept that it is not the Government’s intention to create crystallisation. However, I note that the finer details of the proposals are being considered, and we should look carefully at that. The Minister said that there was no requirement for the funds to be wound up, and I accept that, but I hope that he will consider the issues that have been raised by the Local Government Association about legal ambiguity.

I do not doubt that the Minister has no intention of creating a closure that would crystallise the debts of a scheme. That was always the basis on which I approached such negotiations when I was a Minister, and I am certain that nothing has changed in that regard. However, this was one area in which some of the nuttiest legal advice needed to be obtained—[Interruption.] I should have said “knottiest”. There is sometimes a risk of legal ambiguity, and that must be avoided at all costs. I would therefore urge my hon. Friend and his advisers at the Treasury to take on board the work that has been done in the DCLG and other Departments to find a means of resolving this issue. We all know where we want to end up, and I am sure that there is a means of achieving that. I know that the Minister’s skills and abilities will get us there. It is right to point out that some issues still need to be addressed, but they are not insurmountable in the context of where the Government want to get to. It is an important area to clarify to the maximum extent.

The other issue I want to touch on is governance. I hope that the Minister will consider the concerns raised by the Local Government Association and the unions about the lack of segregation between the scheme manager and the scheme board. Again, I do not think there is any dispute between us about where we want to end up, but it is a fact that the local government schemes have a good record in their management and a good record on transparency. When experienced representatives of local government employers raise concerns that the two functions of the scheme manager and the scheme board are difficult to reconcile within the same body, those concerns should not, in my judgment, be lightly dismissed. I note that the Minister sensibly and properly took on board the fact that there are still developments going on here and that proposals are still being developed. I hope that that will continue to be the case, and when he responds to the debate, he may be able to update us and reassure us that continuing discussions will take place with the experts in the local government sector to make sure that we get the best possible design for those matters.

Finally and more generally, I ask the Minister not to be deterred by undue reference to Henry VIII clauses. When I was taking the Localism Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill through the House, if I had £5 for every time I was criticised about Henry VIII clauses, I would have retired to some tax haven as a very rich man. [Interruption.] I probably would not have not done that actually as I enjoy being here so much. However, it is part of the knockabout banter we get here that Oppositions always say that there are excessive Henry VIII clauses, but when one looks back, one finds that when the Opposition move into government, they construct Bills with exactly the same sort of clauses. That is why I urge the Minister not to be put off by that; it is necessary to build in the flexibility that such clauses provide in any piece of legislation of this kind. What are important are the statements of intent about the manner in which those clauses should be used. I am sure that the Minister will be able to reassure us on that.

What the hon. Gentleman said gives me the opportunity to peg in as a general point the fact that this debate is set against a backdrop of mood music that pensions are spiralling and are actually increasing, but the effect of the Bill is not to arrest pensions, but to cut them and to cut net contributions to pension schemes by 0.1% of gross domestic product, which is what the Government are saving. That, of course, is taken out of the pockets of many people who have worked hard for many years in our public services.

The hon. Gentleman and I once worked out that we might have a very, very, very—however many “verys” we put into it—distant relative in common, but with every gentleness and respect, I would have to tell him that we do no good service at all to our public services by being unrealistic about the affordability of pension arrangements.

I talked about the intent with which we approach these matters and about honesty, transparency and being frank about the financial realities that underpin the schemes. This measure is a critical part of that. The most important service we can provide is to be frank and to produce a scheme, which I am satisfied the Bill does, that is financially sustainable for the future. We have talked about the technical issues, but the overall thrust of being financially honest about the affordability of our public sector pension schemes is absolutely critical—and the Government have got that right.

I begin by expressing my gratitude to the Clerks and to Mr Speaker for their forbearance in ensuring that the amendment tabled in my name is debated in the most appropriate group this afternoon. That said, there is but one lonely little amendment—amendment 32, which would amend clause 16—in my name in this group. In some ways, it is a very technical and practical amendment, but it would allow for the closure of existing Scottish schemes by 1 April 2016 instead of 2015. It would put these reforms on a much more realistic time scale.

I am sure Members will be aware that the Scottish Government have devolved executive competence for a number of aspects of a number of Scottish public sector pension schemes. There have been considerable delays in establishing exactly what flexibilities are open to the Scottish Government in those areas for which they have responsibility, and it has been difficult to gain clarity over what that process might look like. That has obviously had an impact on the negotiating process.

Gaining clarity has happened in an extremely piecemeal fashion. Back in March 2012, Ministers initiated partnership negotiations with employers and trade unions about the pension schemes of the NHS, teachers, police and firefighters. On 28 March, a letter arrived from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—I am sorry he is not with us for this debate—setting out some new constraints regarding the links between normal pension age and state pension age, which we will debate later. In May, there was more communication from the Chief Secretary, who informed the Scottish Government that they would require explicit Treasury consent for cost-sensitive changes to the teachers or the NHS schemes, and in July the Scottish Government were informed that the UK Government wanted to extend the Bill to non-departmental public bodies and Scottish judicial offices. At that stage, there was still no clarity on flexibilities relating to the pension age requirements, which everyone knows is a key sticking point in the negotiations.

I understand the hon. Lady’s point and I know that some of the trade unions have commented on the matter. Is she aware of the correspondence between the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Scottish Government in October, in which the Scottish Government were invited to suggest some amendments to the Bill? Is her amendment one of those that the Scottish Government suggested to the Chief Secretary or to other Ministers?

I am afraid that I am not privy to the Scottish Government’s processes on this, so I cannot answer the hon. Lady’s question with any certainty whatever. What I can say is that the Scottish Government got clarity only a few weeks ago on the extent to which they can deviate from the proposals for England and Wales, and that the degree is quite limited indeed. I think the Scottish Government will have some flexibilities on accrual rates and some revaluation bases.

I will not give way to my hon. Friend at the moment because I want to make some short remarks in this part of the debate, and save my fuller comments for later.

The Scottish Government also require explicit consent from the Treasury for any cost-sensitive changes to the NHS or teachers schemes.

Will the Minister accept my amendment and recognise how tight the time scales are, given the complex range of responsibilities—varying responsibilities relating to different schemes—and how tough the negotiations are? Not all partners to the negotiations even accept the need for this set of reforms. In 28 months’ time, when the provisions would otherwise commence, the Scottish Government would have had not only to complete the negotiations and prepare and pass legislation, but ensure that the employers and scheme administrators could prepare their systems and processes before the 2015 deadline.

This is a very technical amendment in some respects, but it is a very important one. I hope that the Minister will have listened carefully and will be pragmatic in his response to it later.

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) in the amendments he has tabled. Each and every one of them is important. Given that we are having a reflective debate on Report, I hope we will get a reflective response from the Economic Secretary at the end of our debate on this group.

Let me start where it seems to me that there has been a strong measure of agreement across the House—on the importance of having good, regular and accurate pensions information for scheme members. I think we could all agree that what should underpin our pension schemes—this relates to new clause 2—are higher standards of governance, openness and administration. Such underpinning, then, should be provided in this Bill’s provisions for those public service pension schemes in the future. There is bound to be greater confidence and trust in the schemes, along with better understanding of them, if members are given more information.

We have all used Lord Hutton’s report as our starting point for the purposes of the Bill. Lord Hutton pointed out:

“Not all public service pension schemes communicate with members on a regular basis. Currently it is a requirement of defined contribution schemes in the private sector that they provide members with an annual benefit statement: this is not the case for defined benefit schemes”—

which, of course, the majority of public service pension schemes are. Lord Hutton also proposed, in his recommendation 18, precisely what my hon. Friend has advocated in new clause 2:

“All public service pension schemes should issue regular benefit statements to active scheme members, at least annually and without being requested”.

I must say that I thought my hon. Friend let the Economic Secretary off a little lightly when he said that he was not expecting the Government to accept the new clause, but was merely seeking an indication that they would table an amendment of their own in the House of Lords. That would certainly be satisfactory, but it would be desirable if the Government said “We accept the principle and we want the practice, so we will legislate accordingly by adopting the new clause.” It must surely be a matter of common sense and consensus that members being kept informed about their schemes so that they can plan for their retirement must be a good thing; and that good thing can be guaranteed in the Bill. I see no serious case against new clause 2.

I think that Lord Hutton’s proposal for a national board for the local government pension scheme is consistent with the bid for better standards and for better information and better understanding among scheme members. The employers’ side, the Local Government Association, the union side, and members of unions such as the GMB all agree that Lord Hutton was right to make that recommendation, but we are still waiting to see it enshrined in the Bill. I hope that the provision for better standards and information for scheme members that we hope the Government will introduce will include provision for a national board.

One of my worries about the pension scheme changes relates to the different impacts that they will have on different communities. Sadly, as my right hon. Friend may know, Corby has one of the 10 lowest life expectancy rates in the country. As we review the schemes, and, in particular, as we seek to give people information about the future benefits that they may expect, we should recognise that there are huge regional variations in life expectancy, and that it is important for people and their families to be able to plan for their future.

My hon. Friend’s constituency is in Northamptonshire and mine is in south Yorkshire, but we share an industrial heritage and a strong tradition of steel-making, and I entirely understand the point that he has made. It is as relevant to Corby and to east Northamptonshire as it is to Wentworth and Dearne and parts of Rotherham and Barnsley.

New clause 3 is simply intended to ensure that the undertaking given to the House by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and given to the unions that have been negotiating about pension schemes changes on behalf of their members, is guaranteed, and that Ministers will not be able to change their minds and change the schemes in the future. This must be legislation for a 25-year deal, which is what the Government originally promised us.

The question of access to public service pension schemes for public service workers who may face compulsory transfer to non-public service employers and organisations is critical. As has already been pointed out, the Government’s commitment to an extension was a deal-maker for many unions and for many of their members, particularly on the local government side. It would have been a deal-breaker for those unions and members if the guarantee had not been in place, or if what the Economic Secretary said in Committee—which I have quoted—had been on the table instead. We had a clear and principled commitment. That commitment ought to be included in the Bill, and then, as is appropriate in the case of enabling legislation of this sort, the details of the mechanism for how it is to be implemented can be provided in further regulation or scheme rules.

I must say to the Economic Secretary—as some of my hon. Friends have already said—that trust is a problem for the Government in the public services, particularly when it comes to public service pensions. That should come as no surprise to them. After all, they commissioned Hutton to produce the report, and before the publication of the final version, they hit public service workers with a 3% tax surcharge on their pension payments, and with not just a temporary but a permanent switching of the link with pensions from the retail to the consumer prices index. A commitment in the Bill will serve as a confirmation and a reassurance for public service workers that the Government do indeed mean what they say in this regard.

Let me say something about amendments 19 and 20, and about the Bill’s use of the concept of “closure”. During this debate and in Committee, the terms “closure” and “winding up” have been used almost synonymously, but they are not, of course, synonymous. The winding-up provisions in the Pensions Act 1995 apply principally to occupational pension schemes. Those schemes are different from local government pension schemes, which are funded and have the quasi-constitutional backing of local government.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East pointed out, the Economic Secretary has said that that it is not the intention to close local government pension schemes. If, as the Government seem to be arguing, closure does not mean closure and there is no intention to legislate for closure of any of the funds, this change should be straightforward. It is evidently needed, especially given that the concern of employers, scheme members, trustees, and unions representing many of the members has been consistent and clear. Why risk uncertainty, why risk a legal challenge, why risk financial jeopardy for some funds, by allowing debts to be triggered in the particular circumstances of a funded scheme for local government?

It may not be the Government’s intention at present to reduce people’s benefits that they have already accrued. It may not be their intention to end any flexibility in the link between the normal pension age and the state pension age. It may not be their intention to make further and sweeping radical changes or cuts in people’s pension provision. As it stands, however, the Bill allows all those things to happen. That is why the new clauses and amendments are so important. They will reassure pension scheme members, now and in the future, that this is a settlement for the long term, that the Government mean what they say, and that the Government can, in the longer run, be trusted with public service pensions. Scheme members have seen little evidence since 2010 that that is really the case.

Members have discussed the technical definition of “closure”, and I ask the Economic Secretary to make it clear in his response that closure does not mean closure, but instead means the scheme is frozen while a new scheme is run alongside and in parallel. Members have talked about the effects of closing a scheme and the crystallisation of outstanding liabilities. In respect of the local government pension scheme, the council tax payer would then be forced to meet those liabilities in one fell swoop. That runs contrary to all the other efforts the Treasury is making to keep council taxes down, so if closure is, indeed, what is intended, there would appear to be a lack of joined-up thinking in the Treasury.

I support the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, and I hope the Economic Secretary will, too. For clarity’s sake, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that this does not only affect local councils, as schools that are academies, charities and a number of non-government organisations also use the local government pension scheme?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Having chaired the London borough of Barnet pension fund committee for several years, I know that while the council is by far the largest fund, there are also many admitted bodies for which it administers funds, such as Middlesex university, academies and various charities. The crystallisation of debt that may arise if there is any vagueness in the legislation could therefore have massive impacts not only on councils, which could, perhaps, withstand the financial shock by using reserves and spreading the effects over many years, but on smaller admitted bodies, who certainly could not do that.

As we have seen in respect of Equitable Life, once a fund closes and becomes a zombie fund, all the good fund managers flee. No decent fund manager worth their salt wants to manage a zombie fund. Therefore, because of the performance of the zombie fund, the liability grows still further. The implications of crystallisation of liabilities in this context must be taken into account. I urge the Economic Secretary to explain precisely what he means when referring to closing a fund. I believe he means that one fund would remain but would have no new contributions and no new members, and a new fund would run in parallel. I urge him to make that clear.

On the issues addressed in new clause 2, I urge the Government to go further, because best practice in the public sector in respect of providing information is not enough. It is my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary’s birthday tomorrow; I think he will turn 43 years of age. I calculate that by the time he reaches the normal pensionable age of the parliamentary scheme he will have contributed some 24 years of accrued service, presuming that he is in a one fortieth, one fiftieth or one sixtieth scheme with the various contribution rates that attach to them. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary is a man of finance and has a head for figures, so I have no doubt that he understands the pension choices he has made, but I spend a surprisingly large amount of my time explaining to teachers and others—on Saturday I spoke to a police officer—exactly how their pension works, because they do not know and do not understand.

Further requirements in terms of transparency and quantity of information are needed, therefore, because people need to make rational decisions. If we want to defuse the pension time bomb, people have to make a rational decision based on information, not supposition. A constituent of mine who is a doctor has been trying for six months to get information from the NHS about his pension contributions and likely benefits. That is simply not good enough. The Government must go further in this regard.

In respect of this Bill and the commitment to public sector pensions, what change in GDP are we likely to see?

I am not qualified to judge that. I am not an economist, so I do not have information about the impact on GDP. It might be appropriate to ask the Economic Secretary that question, however.

I am not an economist either, but the issue is not the predicted rise in GDP; rather, it is the predicted fall in the working population who will be available to pay the pensions of a growing number of older people.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The pensions time bomb is not only to do with the fact that people are making insufficient provision; it is also about there being insufficient taxpayers to make up the gap between the contributions made by employer and employee and that gap having to be made up from general taxation. There are two parts of the time bomb, therefore. Unless accurate information is provided on pensions, people will not be able to make the appropriate decisions.

In terms of the provisions in the Bill, the House of Commons Library informs us that this time bomb will be cut from 1.6% of GDP to 1.5% of GDP.

I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. After our debate, I may have to check whether I have said something that I cannot remember saying, and I apologise that I cannot respond to that point at present.

The House spends a huge amount of time regulating. The Food Labelling (Nutrition Information) (England) Regulations 2009 spell out in considerable detail the information that must be on food labels. The labels specify for consumers the fibre content, edible carbohydrate polymers, synthetic carbohydrates, salt content, kilojoules and calories, sugar content, fatty acids of trans fatty acids, yet when we ask people to make choices about their pensions, which is one of the biggest decisions of their life, we give them no information at all. I urge the Economic Secretary to go further by ensuring accurate information is included in our pension statements.

At least with regard to new clause 2 and the need for good communication and good information, it appears that there is a fair degree of cross-House agreement. Members may have different motives for wanting such information to be given, and may hold different views about what behavioural change that might drive. Some Members might also hint that they want this information to be given so that public sector workers are properly and humbly grateful for retaining better pensions than the absolutely dreadful pensions of many in the private sector. I hope the Economic Secretary will respond positively, however, and agree that this is an important step. It will be deeply ironic if better and more thorough information is given to people with private sector pensions than to those with public sector pensions.

We all want to avoid too much information being given, of course, with people receiving many pages of information, much of it hard to understand. We do not want to over-egg that pudding. There is a parallel debate happening in the world of private sector pensions on giving good, accurate but still efficient information, so that people can look at a single page of information—that is preferable—and understand what their likely pensions are going to be. On that matter I hope that the Minister, having heard the debate in Committee and again today, will be happy to make some changes to the provisions. I cannot see why new clause 2 should not be in the Bill, as it deals with such a major issue.

I wish briefly to discuss new clause 3, which deals with the issue of a fair deal. Again, there would appear to be a substantial degree of agreement across the House on the substance of the issue. Nobody is saying, “We don’t think these should be the provisions.” The question that has been raised is whether they should be in the Bill. Some Government Members have suggested that accepting what the clearly stated view of Ministers has been at various points should be good enough, because it is on the record and we should be confident that that is sufficient. However, as far as I am aware, it is not possible to litigate on the basis of what people simply said, rather than what is in legislation. People have attempted to say in the past, “But that was the intention”, even doing so in respect of debates in this House. However, legal disputes about rights or obligations turn on the much narrower construction of what is written in the Bill.

I am not suggesting, in any way, that those who have spoken during our consideration of the Bill do not intend what they have said, but many public sector workers are genuinely concerned. As I said in my earlier intervention, the matter becomes a great deal more important if the Government continue, as they presumably will, over the next two years to do what they say they want to do: outsource more of what we would regard, or have traditionally regarded, as public sector activities. That has already happened to some extent. Some people have explained how this could be very positive, with employee mutuals and all kinds of social enterprises springing up to provide public services. If the Government are genuinely serious about wanting current public sector employees not just to have to do this, but to be enthusiastic about doing it, these safeguards have to be in place. If this is the road that is to be pursued, it is even more important to have these provisions than it may have been in the past. Saying, “You didn’t do it before so we don’t need to do it now” is not a particularly good argument; some of us might disagree about what had been done previously. Even if we do not, the argument is still not particularly good, as we have also to learn from experience. I hope that the Government will seriously consider legislation on this matter, because if they genuinely have no intention of departing from the promised arrangement I cannot see what the problem is. When people begin to say there is a problem, that is when those paying into these schemes—the employees likely to be affected—begin to smell a rat. There may be no rat there, but why not make things absolutely clear?

That is also true of what we are trying to achieve in amendment 12, which deals with an apparent possibility arising from clause 7. Again we were given assurances in Committee that we should not be reading into this something that the Government do not intend. Clause 7 says:

“Scheme regulations may establish a scheme…as

(a) a defined benefits scheme”.

It then goes on to talk about

“a scheme of any other description”.

It is not at all clear what is actually meant. We were told that one or two specialist defined contribution schemes are in existence, but people are clear that the promise that was made as part of this negotiation is that the defined benefits schemes would remain in place. They will, however, be changed, and during the negotiation employees in various parts of the public sector accepted substantial changes in the kind of pension because they accepted the imperatives. In moving from final salary pension schemes to career average schemes, changes are being made in accrual rates. All sorts of changes have been made—for example, the forthcoming changes to pension age—but they were made on the basis that the scheme will remain as a defined benefit scheme.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case and sounding a clear warning. She mentions that clause 7(1) refers to

“a defined contributions scheme, or

( c) a scheme of any other description.”

Would she like to point out to the House that this potential change in clause 7 could in theory, under subsection (5), be brought in by way of a negative resolution—by a statutory instrument that would not allow a debate in this Chamber or even a 90-minute debate in a Committee upstairs?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, because that is an important point. If the rest of the clause did not give rise to the possibility of substantial changes, that provision might be acceptable. However, where we are talking about much greater changes, it is particularly important that the full debate takes place.

Again, there appears to be a difference between giving an assurance and a reluctance to see that assurance embedded in the Bill. Various people have mentioned that the whole debate we have had, particularly since 2010, has eroded some of the public sector workers’ trust. I do not generally seek to be overly alarmist in these matters, but even in Committee—I am pleased to say that this has not happened today—there were points when we could see exactly why many public sector workers are apprehensive, There were those, admittedly not at ministerial level but on the Government Back Benches, who clearly still feel that public sector pensions are too generous. The underlying thinking is that at some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, further attempts will be made in that regard.

I fully accept that even with the changes that come through this Bill and through other negotiations that have taken place, public sector pensions remain far better than private sector pensions. However, we always have to remember that the comparator we now have is absolutely dreadful private sector pensions, regardless of where we place the blame and how that has happened. One thing that politicians should be doing in the next few months and years is trying to improve private sector pensions.

Finally, I wish to discuss amendment 11, which relates to the local government scheme in Scotland. Generally, the arrangements for many public sector schemes in Scotland have been that Scottish Ministers could make regulations, but that they were subject to Treasury approval. For the most part, whether because of that need for Treasury approval or because until relatively recently there has been no reason to depart from the UK-wide arrangements as doing so might create various anomalies that would not always be helpful, the regulations for schemes—all those that are not funded, at least—have lain with Scottish Ministers but have been made in the same way.

The exception is the local government pension scheme and the difference is that that is a funded scheme. It has been regulated in a way that has not normally had Treasury approval. The purpose of our amendment is to exclude the Scottish local government pension scheme from the Bill, which would enable matters relating to that scheme to be dealt with by Scottish Ministers. The amendment would perhaps add clarity to the devolution of power, but, more importantly, it would embed the practice as regards that scheme and safeguard it. Otherwise, the Bill would mean that the Treasury would be involved in setting aspects of the Scottish local government scheme and, for the first time, local government workers in Scotland might find that changes can be made to their pensions by the UK Government.

My hon. Friend is making another powerful point about amendment 11. She is right that the Scottish Government are not normally backward in coming forward to demand new powers and for decisions to be taken in Scotland for Scotland. Would she care to speculate about why they have not chosen to apply for a legislative consent motion that would allow them to make these decisions in Scotland? Could it be that they are looking to allow the broad shoulders of the Economic Secretary to take the blame and responsibility for the changes to the local government pension scheme in Scotland?

I was going to come to that point, because I am surprised that that opportunity has not been taken, given the context. As my right hon. Friend will know, this is a difficult and sensitive subject, but—this point might well be speculative and I am sure that people will wish to deny that it is the case—it is no secret that we are in a particular stage of politics in Scotland, and it would—

I think I might be rescuing the hon. Lady from the point she was trying to make. Earlier, she stressed the importance of considering what is actually in the legislation rather than the world as we would like it to be. Does she welcome the fact that John Swinney has not exercised his flexibility to increase contributions to the local government pension scheme?

Order. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) will comment on that point only if it is relevant to the amendments we are considering. I remind hon. Members that we are not yet on Third Reading. The debate is going rather wide of the new clauses and amendments, so perhaps the hon. Lady could return to them.

I am more than happy to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps we will have further debate on that topic.

If amendment 11 were agreed to, considerable and greater power would be available for the Scottish Parliament than the current Scottish Government appear to want. Within the context of the politics at present, I do not think it would be idle speculation to suggest that that might be convenient.

With reference to the amendment mentioned by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) earlier, notwithstanding the comments I made at that stage, does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather strange that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth in the Scottish Government is complaining that there are only some 28 months to conclude negotiations on pensions when a great deal of the Scottish Government’s effort appears to be going on other things at the moment? Perhaps some of that resource could be used to resolve these issues.

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, but I suspect that it might also be outwith the terms of the new clause, so I shall refrain from commenting.

Finally, there is a risk that we are missing something in Scotland and are not getting—or even trying to get—the powers we could have. That decision might be for purely party political reasons, so that people can lay blame, saying, “There is nothing we can do; we cannot make life better for you because we do not have the power to do so. It is all because of that nasty Government down in London and your only way out of this is to make that amazing leap so that with one bound we are free. Then, everything will suddenly be wonderful,” in the hope that that will persuade the people of Scotland that they should vote for separation. I am confident that the level-headedness of the Scottish people will mean that they will not be taken in by such proceedings.

I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) for her speech. For the short time for which I have been a Minister so far, in every debate and in every Bill Committee in which I have been involved, no matter what the subject, she has spoken. I can always rely on her to quiz me and keep me on my toes, so I thank her for that.

Let me also thank all other hon. Members who have contributed to the discussions we have just had: the shadow Financial Secretary, the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) and for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). I shall try to deal with all the points that were raised.

I am glad that we are starting with new clause 2 and that we have started our debate discussing annual benefit statements. It is right that scheme members should be kept informed of their pension rights and provided with an annual update. I fully understand the case for doing more in that area and find myself in agreement with the arguments that Members on both sides of the House raised today and in Committee.

I agree that information should be provided for some members, without request, in one format or another. However, I cannot support the precise wording of the new clause. For example, it does not distinguish between active, pensioner and deferred members but we would need to take that distinction into account. I would also wish to ensure that any change was future-proof—for example, we should not inadvertently mandate paper statements when it might be easier and cheaper for schemes to implement online and perhaps mobile technologies in the future.

Although I respect and understand the spirit in which the new clause was tabled, and although I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have said, I would not propose to use its exact wording. I am now persuaded that there is a case for going the extra mile to ensure regular updates are provided for scheme members. That is why we will consider the matter further and propose an amendment in the other place to deal with annual benefit statements.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. I had quite a lot of sympathy with the Opposition’s case, simply because many of the representations made to me as a constituency MP while the negotiations were taking place contained a mixture of misinformation that came, perhaps, from the trade unions or from a basic misunderstanding of the scheme. The Government and all the scheme employers definitely have a role to play in clarifying the terms and conditions of the scheme so that we do not have these misunderstandings again.

My hon. Friend makes a good point and I hope that he is also reassured by the commitment I have just given.

I also want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Finchley and Golders Green and for Bedford (Richard Fuller) for their input on this issue in Committee.

I welcome that commitment. The Minister said that the information should be provided “to some scheme members”. May I urge him to take a maximalist approach and make sure that the maximum reasonable number of members get the most regular and at least annual information that will allow them to understand the scheme better and to plan for retirement and manage it better as well?

I agree. All scheme members, one way or the other, should receive annual information. That is the type of amendment we will table in the other place. However, there are different types of members of schemes, such as deferred members and active members. That needs to be taken into account when they receive that information.

I seek clarification and perhaps also reassurance in relation to those who are members of small public bodies. They have been informed that their pensions will transfer to larger schemes where they feel that they will lose out more than anyone else. What assurance can the Minister give the House and people in small public bodies that their pension rights will be guaranteed or assured?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. We will come to a related issue later, which may be a better point at which to discuss that.

We had a robust discussion of new clause 3. The Government have set out their commitment to retaining the fair deal, but reforming it. Staff who are transferred from the public sector to an independent provider will be provided with continued access to the public sector pension scheme. This commitment has been made on numerous occasions by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton rightly mentioned in his contribution. It was announced on 20 December 2011 and confirmed in the Chief Secretary’s announcement on 4 July this year. We also reaffirmed this in our response to the fair deal consultation which was published on 19 November this year.

The Opposition say that the Government have not made a commitment to the fair deal in the Bill. That is not entirely correct. Both clauses 22 and 26 allow for the new fair deal policy to be implemented. The Bill has been deliberately crafted so that the new fair deal can be delivered under these provisions. Let me be clear. The current fair deal, which Members are rightly keen to retain, has never been statutory. The new fair deal does not need to be statutory to bind non-public sector providers to the policy. The contracts that independent contractors enter into when tendering will ensure that the fair deal is applied.

The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne referred to my comments in Committee, and it is important to be clear. We are consulting on how the fair deal should apply to those employees who have already been transferred out under the existing fair deal, but we are not consulting on the commitment that we have already made, which is that public sector workers who are transferred out under the new fair deal will retain a right to public sector pensions. We are also consulting on what to do when an existing contract that has already been tendered out is retendered under the new fair deal. There is work to be done to determine how and when the new policy will be implemented. We want to be sure that the contracts put in place will safeguard the legal rights of employees and employers. As the Government, rather than the independent providers of the services, will be retaining the risk of providing these pensions, we need to get this right.

The amendment would also bind the local government pension scheme. However, the fair deal does not apply to staff transferred out of local government. It would not be appropriate to accept the amendment as the implications for local government and the LGPS need to be fully explored. This is work that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), is already doing. For all these reasons, we believe the amendment is unnecessary and would pre-empt the ongoing work on the local government scheme.

On amendment 11, we will no doubt look at Scotland in more detail later in the debate, but let me try to set hon. Members’ minds at rest on the issues raised in the amendment. Legislative competence for the local government pension scheme in Scotland sits with this Parliament. The approval of the Scottish Parliament is therefore not needed under the Sewel convention or the Scotland Act 1998 for primary legislation on Scottish local government pensions. This is a position accepted by the Scottish Government and emphasised by the Scottish Finance Minister on 28 November. He told the Scottish Parliament that the Bill does not contain any provisions

“over pensions for local government, the national health service, teachers or police and fire staff—that would trigger the Sewel convention.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 28 November 2012; c. 14014.]

I am aware of how pressing the question of devolution is for some of our colleagues in Scotland, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) would agree that the Bill is not an appropriate place to rework the devolution settlement put in place by the 1998 Act or the long-standing Sewel convention by making this House’s ability to legislate for local government pensions in Scotland subject to the Scottish Parliament’s consent.

The reason why we tabled the amendment is important. Notwithstanding the Minister’s comments on what the Cabinet Secretary for Finance said, concern has been expressed by the trade unions that the ability to make some of the regulations relating to the local government pension scheme in Scotland might change the relationship that had previously existed. We want to ensure that the existing practice is in the Bill and that there would be no change. That is what the amendment seeks to do.

I respect the hon. Lady’s intentions, but for the reasons that I set out, I do not believe the amendment is necessary. The situation as it stands is quite clear.

I thank the Minister for giving way once again. In all the correspondence that has gone back and forth between the Scottish Government and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, did the Scottish Government at any stage ask for any amendments to be made to the Bill, either to clarify it or to give them further flexibility?

I have not seen all that correspondence, but to my knowledge the Scottish Government have not asked for any such amendments.

On amendment 12, I welcome the opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the defined benefit structure of the new schemes. I would hate to think that the hon. Member for Nottingham East is unaware of the 85,000 or so public service workers who are already members of the current career average schemes. His amendment, which he says is designed to reassure public service workers about the nature of their pensions, refers only to final salary schemes. I can reassure all public sector workers, including those currently in career average schemes, that the Government are fully committed to implementing the defined benefit schemes that have been negotiated. I assure the House, just as I assured the Committee, that the Government have no intention of replacing these defined benefit schemes with different types of scheme designs.

There is no secret plot here. We have spent a long time in discussions with trade unions and member representatives to get where we are today. It would be foolhardy to throw away 18 months of work and do something entirely different. We do not intend to move away from defined benefit schemes in public services. Defined contribution schemes would not be the right kind of pension provision for many public servants.

Will the Minister therefore meet with the War Graves Commission, because that looks as if it is planning to move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme?

If the commission would like to have a meeting with me, I would be happy to do so.

However, we must not vilify defined contribution schemes either. There might be a small group of individuals who consider that their needs are better served by defined contribution schemes—for example, those spending a short time in public service roles who would prefer to use their employer contributions to maintain their existing defined contribution schemes. Approximately 7,000 people are already in that type of scheme by choice. There is nothing wrong with giving people such a choice. The Government believe that clause 7 already provides the right powers to allow the new defined benefit schemes to be set up while allowing alternatives types of scheme for those who want them.

I turn to amendments 19 to 28 to clause 16. I understand the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham East and others in Committee and this afternoon. We have provided reassurances on some of those concerns in correspondence. I hope that all hon. Members are now assured that the effect of the clause will not be to crystallise liabilities or to wind up any of the funded schemes. The amendments highlight those issues over which there are lingering doubts. As the hon. Gentleman set out, those relate to the extent and effect of the closure of the current schemes and the dates on which the changeover will take place.

I would like to thank the Minister for the clarity his letters provided on clause 16, which was helpful, because there was originally some confusion about that in the Bill.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and hope that I can provide further such reassurance on the clause this afternoon.

Amendments 19 to 21 seek to provide that the reforms are made by replacing the existing regulations. The scheme regulations made under the Bill would therefore have to provide for both accrued rights and new service, which we do not believe is sensible. The hon. Member for Nottingham East has expressed concerns that the Bill, as drafted, could create two separate schemes and that that could create extra costs. The Local Government Association has further clarified its outstanding concern that members of existing schemes are treated as deferred members of the existing schemes when the new schemes are introduced. That is not our intention. We will look closely at that, with the Local Government Association and others, to see whether any changes are desirable or needed to put that beyond doubt.

With regard to amendments 22 to 28, the purpose of clause 16 is to prevent benefits from being provided under existing terms in respect of a member’s service after the schemes are reformed. It closes the existing schemes, but only by closing them to future accrual. Clauses 4 and 5 already provide for existing and new arrangements for each work force to be managed and administered together. The old and new schemes will be administered by the same scheme manager, who will be assisted by the same pension board. From a member’s perspective, the transition between their old and new pension rights and the administration of their pensions will be seamless.

The dates proposed in amendments 21 and 22 do not fit with the dates agreed for the reform of the schemes: 1 April 2014 for the local government schemes in England and Wales and 1 April 2015 for the other public service pension schemes. I appreciate that the date set out in clause 16(4)(b) might also look a little odd. It allows schemes that want to reform at the start of the public sector’s financial year—1 April—to do so while leaving the option open to make reforms at the start of the tax year instead.

Although I remain convinced that the Bill will deliver what we want, I am aware that others believe that the dates are confusing. It is a concern that I will continue to consider. I regret to say that we cannot accept these amendments, because I am afraid that they would not work. However, they are clearly well intentioned and we can see what they are trying to achieve. As I said in Committee, we will continue to work through the outstanding concerns. I will reflect further on the amendments and we might return to the matter in the other place.

I turn now to amendment 4, tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and others. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the amendment; its purpose is clear but the practical effects would be fraught with problems. First, in England and Wales the appointed person will be reviewing the valuation and employer contribution rates of 89 separate pension funds. The appointed person will not know who the employee representatives are for each of those funds. The clause already requires the appointed person’s report to be published. That is the appropriate course of action. We envisage that the appointed person will publish a single report covering each and every one of the local authority funds. The Bill rightly requires that a copy is sent to the relevant authority and to the scheme managers, because those persons might need to take action as a result of the report.

If the appointed person identifies a problem in a pension fund, under the Bill the scheme manager would be required to take remedial action. The Bill also allows the relevant authority to intervene if necessary. However, members and their representatives will not need to take any action. The management of local authority pension funds needs to be more transparent, and the clause achieves that. The information will be published and members, local authority residents, Parliament and others will be able to see and consider it. The amendment would add no value, but it would create unnecessary costs and burdens.

I will now speak to amendments 7 and 8. I have already reassured the House that the Government have no intention of replacing the current defined benefit schemes with different scheme designs. Clause 7 allows the necessary flexibility for future Parliaments and pension scheme members to decide on the most appropriate pension scheme design for future generations of public service workers in the largest schemes. Clause 28 allows the same flexibility for the smaller public body schemes made under clause 28(7) or other powers. The Government expect that in most cases employees of the bodies listed in schedule 10 will join the reformed civil service pension scheme and have the same choice that civil servants have now: whether to join a defined benefit or a defined contribution scheme. The amendments would deny the employees of the other public bodies listed in schedule 10 that choice.

The Minister, as ever, is being generous with his time. On amendments 7 and 8, his response will have a chilling effect for trade unions representing members across the piece, because the Government are not adhering to the direction of travel indicated in their assurances on the 25-year guarantee—that we were moving to defined benefit, not defined contribution schemes. Will the Government at least monitor the process and report back to the House, because I do not think that it is their will—it is certainly not the will they have displayed up to now—that there should be a flourishing of defined contribution schemes which would undermine defined benefit schemes?

I hope that I have made the Government’s commitment to defined benefit schemes very clear; I do not think I can make it any clearer than I have already from the Dispatch Box today. That commitment clearly has not changed.

Finally, on amendment 32, I am confident that the Scottish Government can achieve the 2015 timetable. Even more importantly, I have no reason to believe that the Scottish Government share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford). The Scottish Government’s Finance Minister, Mr John Swinney, has not requested that the Bill be amended to allow for a delay for implementation in Scotland. Indeed, such a delay would disadvantage lower and middle-income public service workers, who often benefit from a move to career average schemes. Furthermore, a delay in implementing the reforms would result in additional liabilities being built up in those schemes. These additional costs, running to hundreds of millions of pounds, would have to be paid for through the Scottish budget.

Let me reiterate that I have no problem whatsoever with the move to career average schemes. Does the Minister accept, though, that this process has been subject to unnecessary prevarication and lack of clarity? In relation to amendment 11, tabled by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), does he accept that these proposals will roll back the existing provisions of the devolution settlement?

No, I do not. The Scottish Government have had plenty of time to look at the proposals, which originated with Lord Hutton’s report. They may feel that they should have acted earlier, but they clearly had control over that.

I heard the Minister say that the Scottish Government had not made any formal request to change the time scale, but the Finance Secretary referred to that in his speech in the Scottish Parliament when he indicated that he was not bringing forward a legislative consent motion. If the Scottish Government were to make such a formal approach, would the Minister, even at this late stage, be willing to consider amendments once the Bill moves elsewhere?

If the Scottish Government wanted to suggest any amendments, we would of course have a sensible discussion with them about that.

Over the past year the Chief Secretary has written on a monthly basis to the Scottish Government about the public service pension reforms, and we have asked many times whether they would like to consider amending the Bill. They have not requested any such changes so far, and it would therefore be inappropriate to accept the amendment now.

Does the Minister think that nine days’ notice is sufficient time for the Scottish Government to be able to make those plans before the First Reading of the Bill?

As I said, virtually every month the Chief Secretary has written to the Scottish Government, and they have had plenty of opportunity to respond. As I said to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), if, even at this stage, the Scottish Government wanted to suggest amendments, those amendments would be given serious thought in the other place.

I commend Government amendments 35 to 39 to the House.

I will start with the good news that the Minister is willing to concede the principle, if not the words, of new clause 2 on member communications. That is an important change of heart. We wanted annual benefit statements to be sent out proactively to members of defined benefit public service pension schemes, as they are for defined contribution schemes. We encountered a bit of resistance in Committee, but the Minister has thought again, particularly in the light of the views of the hon. Members for Bedford and for Finchley and Golders Green, and of many of my hon. Friends who made the same argument. I welcome the fact that the Minister has been persuaded of the spirit of the amendment. We do not get many victories for common sense in legislation, but this is one of them, and I pay tribute to him. It is a mark of distinction for him that we have managed to have him think afresh about the argument, reflect on it, and bring matters forward in the House of Lords. When our constituents receive these annual letters in the post, they can thank him for that extra information, as well as the hon. Members who have argued for it. [Interruption.] The letters may of course arrive online as well.

The Minister did not say much about Government amendment 35, but that also feels like a famous victory. It means that existing members of final salary schemes in public bodies will definitely be able to stay in those schemes. We are sometimes grateful for small mercies in these legislative processes.

I turn now to the less good news. I heard what the Minister said about our amendment 12, which would ensure that defined benefit schemes that have ended are superseded by new defined benefit schemes. It is a moot point, and we have our disagreements about it. I shall not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, although I am sure that the issue will be revisited in the other place.

Amendments 19 to 22 relate to the closure of local government pension schemes and whether that means that they are really being closed or merely amended. We are worried about the potential for unintended adverse consequences in how the legislation is drafted. However, the Minister said that our amendments were well-intentioned, and that is good enough for me at this stage. They were, indeed, well intentioned and that is another issue that we will want to revisit in the other place.

We have debated the question of devolved responsibilities and amendment 11, which would clear up some of the confusion, particularly in relation to applications by the Scottish Government for legislative consent motions. We feel strongly that there needs to be some clarification on the issue, but the Minister was helpful in saying that the Government want to consider it, so I shall not press that question, although it is very important.

The new fair deal is a promise whereby existing members of public sector pension schemes will be allowed to retain their membership even if they are transferred or outsourced to the private sector, but we have still not received a commitment to that beyond Ministers’ verbal promises. The Minister has said that more work needs to be done, that they need to explore further the issues and that they do not want to pre-empt ongoing work, but that does not sound like the decision that we and many on the employee side thought had been made for a clear and unequivocal commitment to the new fair deal. It is integral to the deals that were agreed in the process leading up to this Bill. I cannot see what harm can be done by including the new fair deal in statute. It is a question of trust, so I want to press new clause 3 to a Division. With those words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Fair deal

‘A member of a public service pension scheme is entitled to remain an active member of that scheme following—

(a) the compulsory transfer of his contract of employment to an independent contractor; and

(b) any subsequent compulsory transfer of his contract of employment.’.—(Chris Leslie.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Clause 3

Scheme regulations

I beg to move amendment 10, page 2, line 16, at end insert—

‘(3A) Scheme regulations shall not make any provision which would have the effect of reducing the amount of any pension, allowance or gratuity, insofar as that amount is directly or indirectly referable to rights which have accrued (whether by virtue of service rendered, contributions paid or any other thing done) before the coming into operation of the scheme, unless the persons specified in subsection (3B) have agreed to the inclusion of that provision.

(3B) The persons referred to in subsection (3A) are the persons or representatives of the persons who appear to the responsible authority to be likely to be affected by the regulations if they were made.’.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 3, page 6, line 27, in clause 10, at end insert—

‘to be agreed with employee representatives’.

Amendment 5, page 11, line 8, in clause 19, at end insert—

‘with a view to reaching agreement’.

Amendment 34, page 11, line 24, in clause 20, leave out from ‘—’ to ‘(b)’ in line 27 and insert—

‘reach an agreement through consultation with the persons specified in subsection (3), and’.

Clause 3 is an important part of the Bill, as it makes a series of arrangements for scheme regulations. Hon. Members will now be turning to page 2 in their copies; when they merrily flick through to it, they will discover that subsection (3)(c) states:

“Scheme regulations may…make retrospective provision.”

The theme of retrospectivity gives the Opposition great concern. Essentially, the Bill allows the reduction of accrued pension benefits.

The measure is not qualified in any way: it allows all retrospective provisions, including, essentially, the reduction of the savings that people have put aside, which many regard as sacrosanct—the contributions from their monthly salaries or income into a pensions pot that is supposed to safeguard their financial future in retirement. We now discover that the Bill contains a provision that allows the Government to dip their hand into what are normally regarded as safe amounts of money—the accrued benefits for which people have paid in over their years of service. The Opposition believe that that breaches a central tenet of pension provision. Benefits that have been accrued are deferred earnings and should not be reduced. Retrospectively reducing accrued rights is essentially akin to taking back a portion of an employees’ wage that has already been paid; there is very little difference.

Many hon. Members and many of my constituents find it difficult to resist the grey mist that descends and the heaviness of the eyelids that pensions law tends to bring about, but hon. Members should wake up and realise what is in the legislation. They should recognise that we are talking about the Government’s ability retrospectively to reduce the amounts that ordinary employees have saved for their retirement, which they believe are safe.

Public sector workers and their representatives are extremely concerned about the retrospective powers that the Bill gives to this and any future Government. Understandably, they believe that as long as the Bill contains those powers, the pensions of ordinary working people—public sector employees—are not safe. On 29 October, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was asked about the retrospective provisions in subsection (3) by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). The right hon. Gentleman replied that there was no need to be concerned about the reduction of accrued benefits, because the Bill mirrored the Superannuation Act 1972 in that respect. It is important to read out his exact words:

“The hon. Gentleman will know that the provisions in the clause to which he refers mirror directly those in the Superannuation Act 1972, which this Bill in many cases replaces. It was passed in the year I was born,”—

in the year I was born too, but let me not digress—

“and it has been used by a number of Governments to make adjustments to public service pensions.”—[Official Report, 29 October 2012; Vol. 552, c. 60.]

The Chief Secretary went further than that when he gave one of those famous quotes—a bit like the George Bush “read my lips” quote—in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research on 20 June 2011. He said:

“We will honour, in full, the benefits earned through years of service. No ifs, no buts.”

Well, it turns out that the Bill does not mirror the Superannuation Act 1972 in relation to accrued benefits. The 1972 Act provides that accrued benefits can be reduced only with the consent of scheme members—in other words, only if members of those schemes, employees, agree to such retrospective arrangements—whereas the Bill allows for retrospective reductions without the consent of scheme members.

Given that the Bill does not mirror the Superannuation Act protections in the way the Chief Secretary said it would, we can only assume that it must have been a drafting error by the Minister—perhaps some sort of oversight or typo. We are not sure why the Government did that. We tabled an identical amendment in Committee to ensure that the protections for accrued benefits in the 1972 Act were retained, but, surprisingly, our amendment was rejected. The Economic Secretary said that there was no need to mirror the protections in the 1972 Act, which prompts the question: why on earth did the Chief Secretary to the Treasury say that the Bill contained certain protections when it obviously does not? It may be, as we have said, because the Chief Secretary is from a different political party from the Economic Secretary. We are not quite sure why the Chief Secretary said that it mirrors the Superannuation Act provisions, but this Minister, the Economic Secretary, resisted that arrangement.

As we have said time and again, when employees in the public sector find themselves facing changes, without any consultation, to their contribution rates and radical changes to the valuation arrangements for their pensions, the question of trust comes up again and again. This Minister says, “Oh, don’t worry, we’re not going to use this provision on retrospectivity,” but when employees voice their doubts and say, “Hang on a minute. Why on earth are you putting it in the Bill?” we have to sympathise with them. They will be extremely sceptical of the Government’s motivations.

We tabled the amendment to give the Minister another chance to include the protections that the Government—or at least one Minister—said were already in the Bill. When accrued benefits and retrospective changes were raised in Committee, the Minister did not dispute that the Bill allowed the Government unilaterally to reduce members’ accrued benefits, but he said repeatedly that the Government had promised not to reduce those accrued benefits. He said that that promise—a verbal promise—offered adequate protection to public service workers and that legislative protection was therefore unnecessary. That is an extraordinary argument. Even if this Government intend to keep their promise—that is a big “if”—their words will have no effect on a future Government, particularly a Conservative Administration. Surely the Government appreciate that, among the public, the level of trust in politicians and Ministers is low and that our request that they enshrine this protection in statute is a basic one.

The Minister has previously spoken about not wanting to include certain commitments in legislation because to do so would bind future Governments. As I said, that is a specious argument, because future Governments can change laws if they so wish. They would not be bound by previous Government legislation, but they would have to make any changes openly and democratically through Parliament. That is the level of protection that public service workers rightly seek. This goes to the heart of trust and confidence. How can public service workers have any security in their future retirement if the Government at any point can retrospectively reduce the benefits they have already earned?

The Bill must, of course, be compatible with the European convention on human rights and the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg Court. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on whether this retrospective provision on accrued property rights is compatible with the convention? Would it be in keeping with our commitments under the convention to take away property rights retrospectively and without compensation?

The hon. Lady has hit upon an important point. There are questions about whether it impinges on basic human rights to claw back retrospectively property—assets—that has been legitimately accrued, yet there is a provision here in the Bill to allow that to happen. Of course, Ministers could say, “Well, even though we’ve allowed for the possibility of retrospectivity, we’re not actually legislating for it now, although we might want to leave open the door to do it in the future.” That would be the point when it would impinge on the convention. She makes an incredibly important point. That is the extent of the possible outrage being left open in the Bill. All legislation is supposed to be signed off as being compatible with the ECHR, but that is a moot point and a matter of interpretation. She has focused on a crucial point.

The explanatory notes state that clause 3(3) has been included to facilitate the necessary adjustments to

“pension schemes to accommodate changes in law or where the government does not want to delay the benefit of a particular change but needs time to work out the consequences and appropriate method of making the change.”

Amendment 10 would not necessarily hinder those technical operational issues. Given that it would retain clause 3’s intended purpose, as set out by the Minister, and that the Government have promised not to reduce accrued benefits, there can surely be no legitimate grounds for opposing the amendment.

This is not an Opposition whim. We are cutting and pasting text from the Superannuation Act 1972: for 40 years, those provisions have protected the accrued benefits and rights of ordinary working people, and we are seeking to replicate those protections in the Bill. The amendment would not hinder or adversely affect the Government’s intentions, but would be of enormous benefit and reassurance to millions of public service workers. As the Minister knows, that concern arose extensively in Committee, where we debated the issue at length. I shall be grateful, therefore, if he reflects seriously on the strength of opinion voiced so far from across the spectrum—from employee representatives and others who want those safeguards enshrined in the Bill.

Let me follow on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) has just said, which relates to the previous debate. The running theme is trust. Every one of the trade union organisations that signed up to the deal or had it imposed upon them in the pensions dispute has expressed reservations about clause 3. That is why amendment 10 from our Front-Bench team seeks to address that matter.

The logic is fairly straightforward, but let us get it on the record again. The Government promised a 25-year deal—a once-in-a-generation commitment that there would be no further reform of public sector pensions and that this would be guaranteed in legislation. However, clause 3—we had a discussion earlier about Henry VIII clauses—gives the Government extremely wide-ranging discretion, through the use of statutory instruments and all forms of delegated legislation, which, more importantly, includes the discretion to act retrospectively on what are clearly accrued pension rights over a long period. The saving grace, as presented by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was that the same protection would be written into this Bill as is in the Superannuation Act 1972—as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) said—which is that no changes would be made without the consent of the employees’ representatives. Again, that provision, which was promised, is not in the Bill.

What we now have in the Bill is the exercise of discretion, which breaks the commitment of the 25-year guarantee and does not even go as far as past legislative protection. The argument is that in future the Government will need the flexibility to introduce minor changes in legislation, without being impeded from making minor reforms or tidying things up. However, minor reforms or measures to tidy up the legislation—to reflect changed circumstances or change minor details of a scheme or pension arrangements—should be introduced by consent. Unions have never withheld that consent in past discussions about minor changes in pension provision. That has been the nature of the relationship between the Government and employee representatives up until now. This Bill breaks all that and undermines confidence not just in the Government’s commitments to date, but in their good will on this matter for the long term.

My amendments 3, 5 and 34 relate to exactly the same issue of trust. I am trying in some way to establish further transparency and openness in the management of the future pension schemes that will be established. Amendment 3 relates to valuations, which we discussed in the previous batch of amendments. As I have said, valuations are critical to all those involved in a pension scheme, and certainly to employees who have contributed over the years. They will want to ensure that the valuation is done effectively, on professional terms and with their agreement. That is why my amendment 3 would amend subsection (3)(c) of clause 10, which deals with valuations. As set out in subsections (3)(a) to (3)(f), the Treasury directions under which valuations will take place will include

“how and when a valuation is to be carried out”


“the time in relation to which a valuation is to be carried out”

but more importantly,

“the data, methodology and assumptions to be used in a valuation”.

If we are to have real employee participation in a scheme, which involves the management of their money—their deferred pay—it is critical that they are fully involved in the valuation process and therefore that they are consulted and agree to the data, methodology and assumptions to be used. Otherwise, we will yet again undermine members’ confidence in the process of evaluating their own schemes. I do not understand why that is not in the legislation throughout. I hope that the Minister can assure us either that I have missed the mention of full employee involvement in the Bill or that he is willing to amend it accordingly.

Let me turn to my amendments 5 and 34. Again, I just do not understand the drafting of the Bill. These proposals refer to the consultations that will be undertaken before scheme regulations are made. Again, this might seem like an esoteric point, but the scheme regulations are critical because they will determine the nature of the scheme under which the funds will be managed, contributions will be made and benefits will be paid. It is therefore critical that the regulations should be made following full consultation.

In legislation of this kind, when consultations take place and schemes are drafted that are likely to affect their members, the form of words that is normally used includes

“with a view to reaching agreement”.

That intention is always set out in the legislation. Indeed, those exact words are used in clauses 20 and 22 of this Bill. Clause 20(2) states:

“The responsible authority must…consult the persons specified in subsection (3) with a view to reaching agreement with them”.

My amendment 5 would simply put that form of words into clause 19, so that when consultation took place, it would be done with the intent of reaching agreement. I do not understand why it was deleted from that clause in the first place. This is just another way of seeking to reassure the employees, the members of the pension schemes, that they will be fully involved in the process, and that the aim, in introducing any changes to the scheme, is to reach agreement and secure their consent whenever possible. This is not a contentious matter.

I have also tabled amendment 34. An assurance has been given that there will be no further changes for a generation, or 25 years, that new schemes will come into force and that the vast bulk of them will, we hope, be defined benefit schemes, but the whole process involves the security of the elements of the schemes that the Government have guaranteed not to change. Those arrangements must be secured by agreement in the future. If those protected areas of the schemes, which the Government have until now guaranteed, are to change, there should not just be consultation with the employee representatives; there should be consultation with a view to reaching agreement. That consultation should have to secure that agreement. That would give the employees, the members of the pension scheme, the protection that they need, and the reassurance that nothing would be done to those protected areas of their pension without their agreement. Those areas include contributions and benefits.

The whole ethos of the Bill fails to recognise that pensions are not solely in the ownership of the Government or the employing organisation, and that they are paid for by the employees over the years. Those who have paid into the schemes should therefore have a role in managing them. It is interesting that the Bill does not mention the representation of employees on the pension boards that are to be established. We should at least have a proper consultation process, and that process should involve some security that any changes, particularly to those guaranteed areas, should be achieved by agreement.

I do not know of any other walk of life in which people contribute towards the funding of an organisation or a benefit without having a role to play in the management of it, or at least in the direction of policy. The Government are saying in the Bill that those who have paid vast sums into their pensions should have no say, no role and no entitlement to have their views sought or to have agreement reached. I hope that the Government will take on board some of the amendments and send out a message to the trade unions that represent the members of the pension schemes that yes, they do recognise their rights and they do want them to be fully involved. That full involvement would reassure those members of the Government’s good will and willingness to adhere to their commitment to a 25-year guarantee.

I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). On the interpretation of the law as it stands and on the basis of the legal advice we have been given over some time, my view is that pension contributions develop accrued rights and that they are protected in European law. My view is that when the Government proceed at some time in the future to interfere or tamper with those accrued rights, there will be a legal challenge. I believe that the Government will lose it, and then—four, five or 10 years down the line—legislative changes resulting from the European Court decision would have to be brought back to Parliament. At that point in time, there will be a cost burden on the Exchequer to compensate those people who will have lost out as a result of the proposed Government changes.

I believe that we should seek to avoid that, and the way to do so, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East has said through his amendment, is to ensure that those accrued rights are protected and that the Government do not have a vast array of powers retrospectively to interfere in people’s pensions. We can also protect pensions by ensuring that employees are, through their trade unions, properly represented and consulted—and, yes, their consent sought—on any changes that the Government might want to make in the future.

I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) for tabling amendment 10, which gives us the opportunity to discuss member protections again. This is a serious issue, and although we had some long debates in Committee, it definitely bears revisiting. We have a duty to consider how best to protect the interests of scheme members.

The Government have made a clear public commitment to protect the rights that people have built up in their current schemes. We have said clearly and on several occasions that past service in final salary schemes will not be affected by pension reform. The commitment to honour rights in old schemes is built into the Bill. The power in clause 3, to which the amendment pertains, could be used only for the purpose of setting up new schemes in scheme regulations or for transitional or consequential purposes.

Secondly, there is the umbrella protection in UK general legislation that restricts state interference with personal possessions such as pension rights, unless such interference is lawful and proportionate. This protection of property rights is also an area of the European convention on human rights. This Bill is compatible with that convention. Of course, Ministers and others making scheme regulations are always bound to act in a way that is compatible with the law. This will prevent scheme regulations from proposing unlawful changes to protected pension rights.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister so early, but would he kindly explain for the benefit of the House the jurisprudence of the Court of Strasbourg that allows him to say with such confidence that this Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights? What is the jurisprudence to support that contention?

I am pleased that the hon. Lady is asking for clarity on this important question. When the Government put this Bill together, it was important, as with any measure, to make sure that it was compatible with existing legislation, including the European convention on human rights. I mentioned it here not to raise the issue of compatibility—of that I have no doubt—but to say that the convention provides protection for property rights. It represents another layer of protection that should reassure people that high hurdles would exist if any future Government tried for whatever reason not to honour the commitments made by this Government.

I simply do not understand why the Minister refuses to put clearer unambiguous clarifications, protections and safeguards directly into the Bill. What is the purpose of leaving this as some sort of moot issue about whether there is sufficient jurisprudence to prove compatibility with umbrella protections in the European convention of human rights? That is not strong enough. The Minister must understand that people will be very anxious about this issue; why not clarify it and put it on the face of the Bill?

If the shadow Minister will allow me to continue my comments on this important issue, I shall, I hope, be able to give him some reassurance, but first I want to explain the reasons for the Government’s approach.

Since the courts could set aside unlawful scheme regulations, responsible authorities have strong reasons to respect pension protection rights.

There is a third reason for our approach. In order to provide the statutory protections that underpin our commitment on accrued rights, the Bill establishes a common set of member consent and consultation requirements. In the case of the new schemes set up under the Bill, any change in scheme regulations will require a prior, statutory consultation with all who are likely to be affected, or with their representatives.

Clause 20 provides that if any changes are made that could have “significant adverse effects” on members, consultation must be conducted with a view to the reaching of an agreement, and preceded by a report to Parliament or the relevant legislature. Any such changes will require explicit approval by that legislature under the affirmative procedure. They cannot simply be nodded through under the nose of Parliament. Taken together, the rule of law and the specific provisions in the Bill should give members the strong reassurance that there is already a very high hurdle against unlawful interference with pension benefits that have been built up.

As I have said, this is an important issue, and we must get it right. We are adamant that the application of universal consent locks is not an avenue that we intend to investigate. As a matter of principle, we do not believe that members, employers or anyone else should be given a ticket unreasonably to hold each other, or the Government, to ransom and to inhibit changes that are for the greater good. The Government feel strongly that it is right to prevent that scenario from occurring in the future, and that is why we cannot support the amendment.

Most retrospective changes in accrued rights are either minor and technical, or in the interests of the vast majority of scheme members. As I have said, however, it is vital that we strike the appropriate balance between member protections and the efficient operation of public service schemes. Although I firmly believe that the provisions in the Bill achieve that balance, I can tell the House that the Government do not have a closed mind on this serious issue, which has been raised thoughtfully by Members on both sides of the House, both today and in Committee. I can only reiterate that we are listening and do not have a closed mind. I am sure that the issue will be discussed in the other place, and we shall listen carefully then as well. I hope that, in the light of the reassurances that I have tried to give, the shadow Minister will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Amendment 3 would place a statutory requirement on the Government to seek the agreement of employee representatives when the data, methodology and assumptions to be used in pension scheme valuations is set. I agree that we must get those elements of the valuations right. We must be sure that a valuation accurately calculates the scheme’s costs. I understand that Members want to be certain that the Government will honour their commitment to ensure that stakeholders are involved in the process, and I can tell the House that they will be so involved.

I believe that the amendment is both unnecessary and unworkable. It is unnecessary because we have already made it clear that the Government will engage with stakeholders over the directions on valuations. Transparency and consultation are extremely important principles, and it is important for everyone to have a say in how the valuation process works, but that does not mean that we will allow the whole process to be stymied by a very small group of people. That would hardly be democratic, let alone a rational way in which to proceed, and it would mean that the employer contributions would not be set at the correct rate. I am sure that that was not the intention of Members when they tabled these amendments, but we think it right for discussions about the valuation process to take place within the normal scheme governance procedures. I am also sure that in the normal course of events the vast majority of the discussions will prove to be sensible and constructive, resulting in broad consensus between all parties. I hope Opposition Members recognise that if the worst happens and the talks break down without a full meeting of minds, it is important that, where necessary, the Government can make the final decisions.

On amendment 5, I understand why Opposition Members want to ensure there is meaningful consultation with scheme members before scheme regulations are made, and clause 19 requires precisely that. All scheme consultations on regulations will be conducted in line with the Government’s consultation principles, as set out by the Cabinet Office. As they make clear, the Government are committed to consulting on our proposals and to ensuring consultations are carried out proportionately. Clause 19 as currently drafted provides for a good and comprehensive consultation standard. It also recognises the genuine interests of the members and employers in how their scheme is run.

The clause ensures that whenever a change is proposed to the scheme regulations, the responsible authority must consult everyone whom the authority considers to be affected. Since this will be a statutory consultation, the authority must set out clearly on each occasion the matters on which it is consulting. It must provide enough information and time to allow for considered responses. The authority also needs to keep an open mind until the consultation has closed, and must give fair and proper consideration to those responses before making its final decision. It is worth setting all of that out in detail in order to reassure those who might feel clause 19 does not provide for meaningful consultation; on the contrary, it does precisely that.

Moreover, there are many reasons why the Government may wish to consult scheme members and other stakeholders when making scheme regulations. In many cases the Government will consult with a view to reaching an agreement for proposed changes. Clause 19 as drafted does not prevent that. As the Government have made clear, the enhanced consultation standard should apply to some elements of the scheme, and they are specified in clause 20. It is not necessary to extend this provision to cover every other possible element of scheme design.

I am not trying to be obstreperous, but in a former life I drafted this stuff, so I would be grateful if the Economic Secretary clarified why the phrase

“with a view to reaching agreement”

is in clause 20 but not in clause 19, because I consider the scheme regulations and the aspects addressed in clause 20 to be of equal importance?

The hon. Gentleman has approached this issue in a very thoughtful way. We consider that the high hurdle of

“with a view to reaching agreement”

should not apply to every scheme change that might need to be made. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has a different view about when it should apply, but I think I have made the Government’s case clear.

The Economic Secretary has elaborated at great length on clause 19. My concern, however, is that clause 20 refers to consultation

“with a view to reaching agreement”,

rather than until consultation is reached. If agreement is not reached, what will happen? Will the changes be imposed on workers, in which case consultation will merely be an exercise and a formality?

The requirement of

“with a view to reaching agreement”

is a high hurdle. I cannot remember the phrase the hon. Lady used, but I can say that the requirement is not a tokenism of any kind—it is a genuine commitment. It is in clause 20, so where this is required it is a clear commitment that the Government will have to honour. The second part of her question was about what would happen if an agreement was not reached. I hope that such situations would be rare, but it is clear that if an agreement could not be reached the Government would have to make the final decision, as is absolutely right.

Amendment 34 gives me the opportunity to discuss the rationale for the inclusion of the provisions in clause 20. On a number of occasions the Government have stated their belief that the package of pension reforms that the Bill helps to implement represents a settlement for a generation—a deal that should last 25 years or more. The provisions in clause 20 are intended to deliver on that promise by putting in place a high bar for any future Government who might wish to amend any of the core elements of the new schemes. The clause also extends these protections to instances where the responsible authority proposes to make retrospective changes that will have significant adverse effects in relation to members of the schemes.

As we have discussed, the clause requires consultation

“with a view to reaching agreement”.

Such a provision goes further than the already thorough consultation requirements set out in clause 19, which we have just discussed. Clause 19 requires consultation on every change to scheme regulations with all interested parties. That consultation must be carried out in good faith and with an open mind. The courts have shown no hesitation in holding the Government to the high standards required by a statutory consultation of the kind required in clause 19.

By making it clear that the consultation under clause 20 should be undertaken

“with a view to reaching agreement”,

the Government are making a legislative commitment about how such consultations should be carried out. The clause requires consultation to be conducted in a manner conducive to reaching an agreement. A Government will also have to report to Parliament on the actions they wish to take, having due regard to the desirability of not making changes to the protected elements. The amendment seeks to go further than that, by making it compulsory for the Government to obtain agreement from members or their representatives before such a change could be made—the very scenario that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) just raised. On the very rare occasions that these elements may require amendment, it is important that the Government should consult and work with members to ensure that the best outcomes for all involved can be achieved. However, it would be entirely wrong for individual trade unions or members to be able to prevent reform should it be in the interest of the vast majority of members.

I have great sympathy with many of the arguments that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made. He has tabled a series of amendments and has highlighted a couple of appropriate points. He seeks to pin down what happens in respect of changes that affect data, methodology, assumptions and valuations. Those are the long-grass details that many people often put in the box marked, “Too difficult to handle”. However, it is really important that people realise that a tweak here or a change there to the way in which some pension metrics are defined can seriously affect the retirement incomes of hard-working public sector employees, so he is right to shine a bit of a spotlight on those areas. I am not necessarily sure about his drafting, but he has brought an important proposition to the House’s attention. Similarly, he raised some issues we debated in Committee, such as why certain parts of the Bill talk about consultation being done in the way that many of our constituents have become used to—as a cynical box-ticking exercise. There is consultation, but most people have, sadly, grown used to the notion that consultation in that context means a form being sent out that they can send back if they want to, which Ministers will just ignore when it comes back.

Ministers then say that they will have a special enhanced consultation process, which means that it is done with a view to reaching agreement. As the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) pointed out, even in an enhanced consultation process there is no guarantee that agreement will be reached. It is difficult to know how anybody participating in that consultation would enforce the process, but that consultation is the so-called protection in the protected elements of the Bill. In a sense, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington is debunking a lot of the differentiation between consultation and enhanced consultation.

I have not seen this before, but we now have two types of consultation. The first is, “We’re consulting you because we hope you agree with us,” and the other is, “ We’re consulting you but we couldn’t care what you say to us.” Amendment 34 is simply trying to protect the Government, so that they can demonstrate that they are adhering to their promised level of consultation.

I suppose it is a case of diet consultation—or consultation-lite—versus full-fat consultation, which I know that my hon. Friend would be far more keen to see. I think he has done the House a service by casting some light on those issues, but I hope he will forgive me if I focus mostly on amendment 10 and the issue of retrospectivity, which is, ultimately, to me one of the worst aspects of the Bill.

I am glad that the Minister said that the Government have an open mind on retrospectivity—at least, he said that they do not have a closed mind, which is a similar thing. We hope for great things in the other place when the question is considered. He gave a set of reasons: a court might come along and set aside scheme regulations or there might be technical reasons for raiding people’s accrued savings and pension benefits retrospectively. I must say to the Minister, however, that when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—for it was he—promised “No ifs, no buts” and said that he did not want that retrospectivity, not to have put that particular provision clearly and explicitly in the Bill is a major failing that will leave many employees with a sour taste in their mouths. They want some pretty basic protections to stop the notion of clawback and the ability of Ministers to sequester savings that they thought were safe—the deferred wages they have set aside for their long-term well-being.

We need to ensure that we focus on the confidence of employees in the scheme, as this is their property too, as my hon. Friend pointed out. It is not just the preserve of the Government; they are not simply giving out a pension as though it were a state pension scheme or however they wish to characterise it. These pensions are a joint endeavour between employees and employers and that is why we have said that the Superannuation Act 1972 protections need to be transposed into the Bill. The provision, derived from that Act, states:

“Scheme regulations shall not make any provision which would have the effect of reducing the amount of any pension, allowance or gratuity, insofar as that amount is directly or indirectly referable to rights which have accrued”.

The protection we need is very straightforward and we wanted to put it into our amendment. The Minister needs to go back and think about this again, as it is a signal issue that is at the core of the trust we need to have in the scheme. We want the scheme to work and we want members to stick with it and not opt out, but they need to know that their money and their savings are safe. That is why I would like to test the opinion of the House on amendment 10 by pressing it to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Clause 9

Pension age

I beg to move amendment 13, page 5, line 21, after ‘age’, insert ‘or deferred pension age’.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 29, page 5, line 21,after ‘section 1’, insert

‘(other than a Scottish scheme)’.

Amendment 2, page 5, leave out lines 22 and 23 and insert

‘65, or current pension scheme age if lower’.

Amendment 1, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

‘(d) prison officers and psychiatric nurses.’.

Amendment 14, page 5, line 28, after ‘age’, insert ‘or deferred pension age’.

Amendment 30, page 5, line 28, after ‘section 1’, insert

‘(other than a Scottish scheme)’.

Amendment 9, page 5, line 28, leave out ‘must be 60’ and insert ‘shall be set out in scheme regulations but must be no more than 60’.

Amendment 16, page 5, line 29, at end insert—

‘(2A) Subsections (1) and (2) shall not apply in relation to any category of public service worker as the Secretary of State may by order specify following the publication of a scheme specific capability review.’.

Amendment 15, page 5, line 30, leave out subsection (3).

Amendment 31, page 5, line 30, after ‘section 1’, insert

‘(other than a Scottish scheme)’.

Amendment 33, in clause 33, page 19, line 25, clause 33, at end insert—

‘“Scottish scheme” means a scheme for the payment of pensions to persons specified in paragraphs (c) to (g) of section 1(2) in respect of service in Scotland;’.

We turn now to the part of the Bill relating to pension age. Let me first deal with what we think are drafting anomalies, with which we deal in amendments 13 to 15. Following our further scrutiny of the Bill after the Committee stage, we have noticed a potential anomaly on which we hope the Minister can reflect. There are to be some exemptions in the link between the retirement ages set out in public sector pension schemes and the state pension age arrangements. They are set out in clause 9(2) on page 5 of the Bill—I know that hon. Members are following this avidly—and relate to a person’s normal pension age under the scheme. The clause does not refer, however, to their deferred pension age, which means that the exemptions apply only to active members of pension schemes and not to those who have moved on from their occupation and are classified as deferred members.

The Bill will introduce increased pension ages, but clause 9 as drafted could lead to significant unfairness for some members of the fire brigade, the police and the armed forces, because, under the state pension age arrangement, those specified protected occupations will not be tied to the normal pension age. For example, a firefighter might decide to leave the fire brigade at the age of 58 because he or she feels physically unable to continue until 60, not necessarily due to any specific health problem, but simply due to their increasing age. They will then become a deferred member of the pension scheme, so they will not be entitled to receive the full pension until they reach the state pension age. That is a significant gap, so we think that the amendments are necessary to prevent unintended unfairness. Any extra costs resulting from such changes would need to be fully managed as part of the cost-cap mechanism. Our proposal would not add a burden to the Exchequer, but it would address a potential anomaly in the Bill. The Minister will, therefore, understand why we have tabled amendments 13, 14 and 15. I hope that this is a drafting error and I invite him to reflect further on it.

The Minister will not be surprised to learn that it is amendment 16 that most represents our ongoing anxieties about clause 9 and the problems with the link between the state pension age and an array of public sector employees whom we are asking to work for a considerable length of time. It needs to be said that, with life expectancies increasing, it is right to ask public sector employees to work longer before drawing their pensions. We do not disagree with that. Reforms of the age at which public sector workers retire are necessary if pension schemes are to remain sustainable, which, of course, is in everybody’s best interests. As such, we broadly agree that the normal retirement age for public sector workers should be linked to the state pension age. However, we have serious concerns about the inflexible way in which the Bill has been drafted and how it deals with exemptions to the state pension age.

The Government have understood that certain workers in physically demanding professions are not able to work past a certain age, regardless of their increasing life expectancy. As such, the Bill fixes the retirement age at 60 for fire and rescue workers and for members of the police force and the armed services. So far, so good, but my point is that those are not the only public sector workers with physically demanding jobs, and that is where the debate now takes us.

To press the hon. Gentleman on his point, he has made the assertion—it may be a fact—that the sole criterion for the exemption of these professions from the normal retirement age is the physicality of the job, but does he accept that there are other differences between those types of public sector workers and others and that that might be why they have been given a different retirement age?

I wonder what the hon. Gentleman is alluding to; perhaps he should elaborate. The Minister has not said that there are considerations other than the physically demanding nature of being a firefighter, a police officer or a member of the armed forces. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there are different categories of public sector workers beyond some of those physical issues?

I will clarify my view, although I cannot speak for the Government. One criterion that differentiates these workers, other than physicality, is that they put themselves in danger in their public service, perhaps not routinely, but as an important aspect of their work. A firefighter will run into a burning building to rescue someone, a member of the police force will stop altercations and put themselves in physical danger, and members of our armed forces routinely put their lives on the line for our country. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that that is an important point of differentiation and that it is not just to do with physicality, which is the basis for amendment 16?

While I do not disagree about the bravery of those in the professions listed in the Bill, I counsel the hon. Gentleman against taking the prescriptive view that only those categories of employee are engaged in brave acts or in risky professions. I accept that there are risks that go beyond the question of physicality, but there are other professions where the distinction is not as black and white as the Bill makes out. Mental health workers often take significant risks in the course of their duties, for example if they have to restrain patients. Prison officers are often in dangerous situations. Paramedics, hospital porters and others also have very physically demanding duties. There are gradations of physicality and risk.

My point is that there is an anomaly in the legislation, because one cannot be quite as prescriptive as to set out in the Bill particular classes of job and suddenly regard all others as not involving the same level of physicality or risk. I will not say that there are 50 shades of grey, but there are certainly gradations.

Perhaps I may help the hon. Gentleman to address the conundrum with which he is challenging himself by referring him to the Hutton report, which the Bill is implementing. I refer him to one of the shaded boxes that I know he is very keen on. Recommendation 14 states that the exception to linking the normal pension age to the state pension age should be

“in the case of the uniformed services where the Normal Pension Age should be set to reflect the unique characteristics of the work involved.”

Hutton also states that the uniformed services are in a different position because their current pension age is 55 or less. That is another key reason why there is a different normal pension age for the uniformed services, which Hutton specifically lists as

“the armed forces, police and firefighters”.

I do not deny the important role that is played by the professions listed in the Bill. What I am saying is that it is not as simple as saying that all other professions should therefore be exempt from considerations about the physicality of their endeavours. One could argue that prison officers, being a sort of uniformed service, have cause to have such protections. My point is that it is inconsistent and unfair to make exceptions for some workers in physical roles and not others. It is by no means clear that 60 is the appropriate age for all firefighters, police and Army personnel, when some of them undertake such demanding physical activity. There is no room in the Bill to make further exceptions to the state pension age link or to respond to any review that makes recommendations about the appropriate retirement age for firefighters, the police or Army personnel. Members who served on the Committee will recall that we cited the working longer review in the national health service, which was set up by Government Members. There is also an ongoing review of the working age in the fire service.

Is the hon. Gentleman’s argument on the basis of physicality collapsing? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) said, three professions routinely place themselves in danger much more significantly than other professions. They currently have significantly lower pension ages, so it would be hugely unfair, a cliff edge and very disproportionate, to seek to increase their pension age to 65 or 68 as in other professions.

That is why amendment 16, which I urge the hon. Gentleman to look at, does not prescribe different pension ages for different categories of worker. We are looking only to give power to the Secretary of State, who

“may by order specify following the publication of a scheme specific capability review”,

to allow disapplication in relation to categories of public service worker for provisions in clause 9(1).

If reviews are ongoing—the Government have undertaken the working longer review in the national health service, and the fire service review—we must ensure almost as an issue of drafting that any conclusions of those reviews can be enacted and reflected in legislation, if the Secretary of State agrees. That is the extent of the amendment; it would simply ensure that if there are technical reviews of the capability of certain classes of employee, the Government will be able to create exemptions from any arrangement. That is why the amendment is narrowly defined. I accept there is a theoretical or philosophical argument about risk and physicality, but to return to the practicalities of our arrangements, we must look at how the legislation is drafted. That is our duty as a loyal Opposition.

The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. He may regard the amendment as narrow, but I regard it as a broad generalisation that seeks to introduce uncertainty in an otherwise specific Bill. If his principle of physicality is an important test for public sector pensions, is it also an important test for private sector pensions or the state retirement age?

If a private sector scheme rules to make its own arrangements, it has the flexibility to do so. We are simply saying that in future, some degree of latitude and flexibility should be placed in statute to allow Secretaries of State to take account of the outcome of any reviews. We are not saying there should be a requirement for exemptions to be made; we want to give the Secretary of State the power to implement the findings of any reviews should that be deemed fit.

I sometimes feel as if I am on the wrong side of the Chamber for this Bill, but perhaps I may help regarding the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller). The private sector does recognise physicality for those such as steeplejacks, chimney sweeps and jockeys who have a significantly lower retirement age. I hope that is helpful to the shadow Minister.

If only we had been talking about jockeys when the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) was in the Chamber; he would have found that helpful intervention most interesting. My respect for the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) grows by the minute and I am grateful for that interjection.

The key point is whether the reviews can find their course into effect. In Committee, the Minister repeatedly stressed that the working longer review for NHS staff was

“not in any way looking at the link between the normal pension age and the state one.”

Instead he said that it was

“considering the implications of working longer for NHS staff,”––[Official Report, Public Service Pensions Public Bill Committee, 13 November 2012; c. 327-28.]

That seems a slightly contradictory statement. Linking the normal pension age to the state pension age means that people will work longer, and therefore the review will look at the effect on the state pension age link for NHS workers.

The terms contained in the Department of Health document “Reforming the NHS Pension Scheme for England and Wales” include the following objectives for the working longer review:

“Identify any categories of worker for whom an increase in Normal Pension Age would be a particular challenge in respect of safe and effective service delivery and consider how this may be addressed;

Identify any categories of worker for whom an increase in Normal Pension Age would be a particular challenge in respect of their health and wellbeing.”

If that NHS review concludes that a higher normal pension age is inappropriate for certain categories of worker, either because working longer would be physically damaging or because it could lead to unsafe practices in the NHS, the current Bill would not allow those workers to be exempt from the state pension age link in clause 9. I therefore contend that it is irresponsible to make legislation before the findings of the Government’s review are published, without allowing the legislation to accommodate some or all of that review’s recommendations. Given that the working longer review was a key component of the agreement reached between health service workers and their employers, it is unfair to fetter the recommendations that the review can realistically make. It is similarly inappropriate and unfair to fix the retirement age for firefighters at 60 when the working longer review in the fire service is yet to report.

This is an incredibly important issue. I accept that we must note that the cost-cap mechanism in the Bill would ensure that any extra costs of the extra exemptions to the state pension age link will need to be met by the scheme—the Opposition are not saying that the additional costs should fall on the shoulders of the taxpayer—but bearing that in mind and the fact that the clause does not require the Secretary of State to make exemptions, the amendment simply allows flexibility. I cannot see how the Government can object to it.

Before hon. Members speak to other amendments in the group, may I refer the hon. Gentleman to the proposed final agreements? I have in front of me the one that applies to teachers pensions, but it is similar to other schemes. It states:

“Actuarially fair early/late retirement factors on a cost-neutral basis”

will apply in the agreement. That means that teachers can take early retirement if they wish. If the normal pension age is above 65, they will have an early retirement factor of 3% per year for up to three years. People can therefore take early retirement with a small actuarial reduction in the pension. That deals with the problems the hon. Gentleman describes.

With the greatest respect, that does not deal with the problems, because there is a difference between the early retirement benefits to which an employee is entitled and those they can get at the normal pension age as defined in scheme regulations. The Government set up working groups and committees in the NHS, fire services and services throughout the country. Those groups have been given terms of reference, but now discover that they cannot implement their findings because of a drafting anomaly in this Bill. All the Opposition are asking is that the Government think again about how the scheme capability reviews come to fruition. This ought not to be a partisan point. I am simply seeking to ensure that we have flexibility in the legislation.

Others will want to speak to the amendments in the group that they have tabled, but I strongly urge the House to support amendment 16.

I said in an intervention that I had some interesting views on the Opposition’s stance. I have sympathy with the thrust of the amendments, but I assure the Minister that it does not extend to voting for them.

Our starting point on the retirement age must be the demographic pressures we face. UK National Statistics data show that in 2008, males were expected to live to 78.1 years and females to 82.1 years, yet by 2011, life expectancy had jumped to 90.3 years for men and to 93.8 years for women, and we could expect to pay almost as many pension cheques as pay cheques. One of my reasons for supporting the linkage—in the main— between public sector pension schemes and the state retirement age is that there is a huge gap between the contribution rates of the employer and employee and what is drawn out as a pension.

The NHS pension scheme tiered employee contributions data, which are published by the NHS, show that the employer pays about 14% and the employee about 8.5%. My rudimentary maths leads me to conclude that 22.5% goes in. Members who took part in the Bill Committee evidence sessions will remember the British Medical Association’s interesting contribution, not least because the BMA said that doctors should pay less and the lowest-paid should pay more for their pensions. The BMA confirmed that the average pension out in the NHS was 49%, so if the contribution rates are putting in only 22.5%, but 49% is coming out, that 26.5% gap has to be covered from somewhere, and it is being funded by the taxpayer. If that taxpayer gap is going to grow because of the demographic time bomb—people are retiring at the same age, but living longer and drawing pensions longer—it will start to be completely unsustainable, undermining the public sector pension schemes in total. That is why the Government are right to link the normal pension age with the state retirement age.

As I said, I have some sympathy with the thrust of the amendments. I acknowledge that the Government have gone some way to recognise the physicality of the work of the police, the fire service and the armed forces by having a lower retirement age of 60. However, I gently ask the Minister to revisit the impact of the physical nature of some of the roles within those categories, although not all the roles, because there is a huge difference between a police officer on the beat, in a territorial support group or in the computer-aided dispatch call centre.

On Saturday, I met one of my constituents, who is a sergeant in the local territorial support group. He is 42 years old and physically very fit. He explained that his job involves being the guy at the sharp end outside the gates of Parliament when we have serious disorder. He is the guy in full riot gear who has to wade into civil disobedience. He is the guy who goes in the front door when the police have to go in and arrest a violent criminal. The physicality of that job requires him and his colleagues to pass tests to ensure that they are physically up to the job. There are two tests in particular, and one is called the bleep test. Anybody who goes to a gym may know that this is where one has to run faster and faster to get between two points before the bleep cuts one off. On top of that, the sergeant explained that he has to do a shield test, which is where he and his colleagues, in full riot gear, have to be able to run 1 km in not more than six minutes. He explained to me that that, at his age, he is getting towards the limit of his physicality. Expecting a sergeant in the TSG to be able to pass the bleep test or a riot shield run in six minutes or less for 1 km at the age of 59 is perhaps asking too much.

I am reasonably fit, but I have 10 years on the sergeant. I have accepted the challenge of doing the shield run—of trying to run 1 km in not more than six minutes in full riot gear. Perhaps the Government and Opposition Front Benchers would like to join me. If they are keen to take up the challenge, I will happily arrange it. Both the Minister and the shadow Minister have 10 years on me as well. [Interruption.] Whips, of course, are entitled to take part—they might enjoy dressing up with the truncheon.

On the question of physicality, I am not suggesting that the Government have got it wholly wrong. I am suggesting that if, at some point in the future, we have empirical evidence that such physicality has an impact on those particular jobs, the Minister—I am sure he is rushing off to check the data—might revisit the rules to see if that physicality can be reflected in those specific roles within those specific categories.

Many years ago I took the bleep test and I can only describe its physical demands as a form of hell. The hon. Gentleman is right about the demands on the police, but what about other public sector workers? It has been put to me by nursery staff, school staff who work with small children, nurses and other NHS staff that they have very physically demanding jobs. Their jobs are not as potentially violent as the job he has just described, but they are demanding. Does he accept that we need to look carefully at the impact on those people too?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I do not rule out the possibility where there is empirical evidence that people’s ability to work and progress is affected by the physicality of that profession. One difficulty is that those in some of the roles described in the Bill will have limited opportunities to move into other less physical roles. That is another consideration. If there are roles in the NHS where the physicality affects people’s ability to perform that role and where no other avenues are available to them, that is a fair point, but in most roles there will be opportunities to move into less physically demanding roles. Unfortunately, in the armed forces, police and fire service, there are limited opportunities to move out of front-line roles. It is the House’s duty to protect those who protect us.

People are living longer and many, albeit not all, are remaining fitter for longer. It is suggested that we amend the Bill to enlarge those categories in the public sector, but what about those in the private sector—people who work in private sector nurseries, for example—who face exactly the same issues as the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) just raised?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but if he revisits some of the private sector schemes, he will find that they rely on actuarial and physical evidence provided by various medical boards, and that the retirement age in certain private sector schemes already reflects the physical demands of certain roles. In an intervention, I mentioned, rather light-heartedly, people such as steeplejacks and jockeys, but there are other roles whose physical demands are reflected in certain private sector pension schemes, which already have mechanisms in place.

Does my hon. Friend not accept that those pension schemes are fundamentally different from the types we are debating? The former tend to be defined contribution schemes rather than defined benefit schemes. Does that not have an impact on the flexibility of those schemes and their ability to take account of those issues?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. He knows my views and is tempting me down the path of debating the future of defined benefit schemes. I have been entirely consistent on this point: for many years, I have said that all defined benefit schemes are no longer sustainable, whether in the private sector or public sector. That is a debate for another time and is certainly not pertinent to the amendment, but I share his view that perhaps we need more wholesale change and a larger debate.

In supporting specific exemptions where physical demands can be proven, I am not undermining the broad thrust of ensuring that our public sector pensions are sustainable. I have long argued that the contribution rates of both employee and employer do not match: what goes in does not match what comes out. That has driven my long-held view that defined benefit schemes are no longer fit for purpose. Having said that, this Bill is a major step forward in making sure that our public sector pensions are sustainable. We have a duty, however, to protect those who protect us and we ought to revisit this point where there is hard empirical evidence that physicality, in certain roles within those categories, can be proven to be detrimental to people’s health after retirement. I am not suggesting that I will support the amendment, but I am urging my ministerial colleagues to revisit the matter.

I have rehearsed at length the point about physicality. I am sad that the Minister is no longer with us, but I hope that he will address that point when he winds up. Should empirical evidence emerge, I hope that we can revisit this subject.

I want to refer, in particular, to my amendment 1. I found the contribution from the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) very interesting indeed. I certainly agree with a range of points he made.

The amendment seeks to place two additional occupations into the Bill, and they have been mentioned on both sides of the Chamber. They are those of prison officer and psychiatric nurse. Clause 9(2) lists the three occupations to be enshrined in the legislation as exemptions from subsection (1)—they have been discussed by various Members and there seems to be some agreement—which are

“fire and rescue workers who are firefighters…members of a police force, and…members of the armed forces.”

I fully support people working in those occupations and the courageous work they do on a regular basis. I fully understand why they are included in the Bill and support their inclusion, but for the very same reasons I wish to amend the Bill to include prison officers and psychiatric nurses.

It is widely accepted that prison officers and psychiatric nurses have to deal with some of the most dangerous, dysfunctional and disruptive people in society on an almost daily basis. Expecting these categories of worker to work above the age 65 is totally and utterly unjustified; in fact, when we look at it in great detail, the decision seems absolutely outrageous. The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green mentioned a constituent of his, a very fit police officer from the territorial support unit who explained exactly how he kept himself in peak fitness to do his job. We cannot expect people in the Prison Service to be grappling with prisoners at the age of 65 and above, but the Bill as it stands would allow that.

Currently, prison officers regularly have to take five different tests: a grip strength test, an endurance and fitness test, a dynamic strength test, an agility test and a static shield hold test. If a prison officer fails any of those tests, they fail the entire health and fitness test. The current regime is therefore rather stringent. If clause 9 is agreed to unamended, it will mean many prison officers and psychiatric nurses either dying in service or retiring on ill health grounds and not having a very healthy lifestyle thereafter.

My hon. Friend is doing a fine job of explaining the concern of people who work in the Prison Service or in psychiatric health. Ashworth hospital and HM Prison Kennet are in my constituency, and people working at both have expressed exactly those concerns to me. Does he think that, as well as potentially leading to damaged health and increased disability, the Bill will discourage people from entering the Prison Service and that part of the NHS?

That is absolutely right. When anybody looks to take up a new employment opportunity, they look at a whole array of things. The public sector is changing by the day—although the Prison Service and the NHS now involve not just the public sector, but the private sector. People look at how their pensions will end up and what the pensionable age is, which we have also been discussing this afternoon. That is a huge consideration for many people who want to choose their profession early on in life. This measure will put people off becoming prison officers.

I know a lot of prison officers and psychiatric nurses, and they are very committed people. They come to see me in my surgery and they say, “Mr Lavery, I am 50. How am in going to manage to do this job in 15 years’ time?” The measures in the Bill mean that they would have to do just that. We need to scrutinise this. We cannot have people over 65 years of age doing that kind of work. It is absolutely nonsensical. I really hope that we can reach an agreement today to look at that situation again.

An added problem in the prison service is that the work force are growing older, because the prospect of doing the job does not excite people any more, and the prison population is getting not only younger but more dangerous. Violence is on the increase, and an average of eight prison officers are assaulted every day of every week. Not long ago, it was recognised that prison staff had a life expectancy of only 18 months after retirement, yet the Bill gives them no consideration. The Government have still not provided any evidence that front-line prison staff could work in an operational role over the age of 65, yet they are still considering that option.

May I gently ask the hon. Gentleman to remind the House that prison officers in Northern Ireland also run a particularly grim risk? After a gap of almost 30 years, a prison officer, David Black, was murdered recently in rush-hour traffic on a busy motorway on his way to work. Prison officers in Northern Ireland run an additional risk. It is an absolute disgrace that prison officers are not exempted in clause 9.

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. Prison officers in Northern Ireland have had a particular problem with security for decades. They have the same security problem here, although it is definitely not as bad as the problem experienced during the troubles in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, prison officers put their neck on the block at all times. I have been out socialising with members of the Prison Officers Association when they have been approached by ex-convicts. They were out having a decent time, and those people were coming up to them. They addressed the prison officers very politely, but I have to say that they looked rather strange. I would not want them coming to talk to me. We need to look at the security of the people who work in the Prison Service. As I have said, we need to protect those people.

The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green said that members of the police force were highly trained, and that they needed shields and other forms of protection. He said that they were out on the front line when there were problems, and that they would get stuck in to try to resolve them. Prison officers and psychiatric nurses do that on almost a daily basis, and it is not very pleasant for them. There are also problems in the Prison Service and the health service, when prisoners are not only violent but spit in people’s faces and when blood is thrown at people’s faces causing all sorts of distress.

It is common sense to try to ensure that prison officers and psychiatric nurses are added as part of the exemption under clause 9(2), just as we rightly wish to protect police officers in their daily duties. Our brave armed forces and our firefighters are other examples, so we should look to protect the prison officers and psychiatric nurses, whose duty is solely to protect us, in the same way.

I will not press my amendment to the vote, as I do not want to divide the House. Should I say that we are too conciliatory on this issue, and should I say that Members of all parties seem to agree—albeit to different degrees—on it? Rather than split the House on it, I gently ask the Minister at least to consider the amendment to ensure that psychiatric nurses and prison officers are included in the provisions of clause 9(2).

I shall make a brief contribution and oppose amendment 2, tabled by Opposition Members, which would leave out lines 22 and 23 of clause 9— essentially subsection (1)(a) and (b)—and insert in its place

“65, or current pension scheme age if lower”.

That would drive a coach and horses in many ways through one of the Bill’s key provisions, which is to have a link between the normal pension age and the state pension age. I think that is an important way to minimise the risk of longevity to the taxpayer.

Paragraph 4.5 of the final report of Lord Hutton says:

“It is generally assumed that longevity will continue to increase in the future, but there is significant uncertainty about the scale of any future changes.”

He goes on to say:

“Increases in life expectancy have historically been… underestimated”

when the calculations have been made.

In paragraph 1.2 on page 22, Hutton says:

“As a result”

of this underestimation,

“pension costs…have been much higher than originally expected.”

He cites the example of a female pensioner in the NHS scheme who would retire at the age of 60 in 2010, and says that she would be expected to spend around 45% of her adult life in retirement, compared with about 30% for pensioners who retired in the 1950s. That is the issue that Hutton is trying to address. Spending 45% of one’s life in retirement is simply not sustainable for any pension scheme—even one backed up by the vast coffers of the state sector.

Page 9 of the Hutton report states:

“The main risks within defined benefit schemes are: investment; inflation; salary”—

because salaries can be put up without actuaries being aware of the rises—

“and longevity risk. While government, as a large employer, is capable of bearing the majority of the risk associated with pension saving…present schemes involve too much risk for government and the taxpayer.”

He went on to say:

“There should be a fairer sharing of risk between government”

and scheme members. It is that risk that amendment 2 would push back to the taxpayer.

Hutton says that the increases in life expectancy have been recognised within the state pension scheme, and he therefore recommends that we should follow that lead when it comes to helping members bear pre-retirement longevity risk. That is why he recommends the link between the state retirement pension age and the normal pension age. Recommendation 11—it is in a shaded box, which will please the shadow Minister—states:

“The Government should increase the member’s Normal Pension Age in the new schemes so that it is in line with their State Pension Age.”

Lord Hutton also says:

“The introduction of the link to the State Pension Age, which will initially move Normal Pension Ages to 65, will move the proportion of adult life in retirement for public service pension scheme members back to about a third: roughly where it was in the 1980s. The current State Pension Age of 65 is already the Normal Pension Age for most new entrants to public service pension schemes.”

Teachers, for instance, have a 2007 scheme and a pre-2007 scheme. For those who joined before 2007 the normal pension age is 60, while for those who joined after that date it is 65. Lord Hutton goes on to say:

“In the long term, the timetabled increases in State Pension Age should help to keep the proportion of adult life in retirement for members around this level”—

that is, a third—

“on current life expectancy projections.”

I believe that amendment 2 is a mistake, and would increase risk disproportionately for the taxpayer.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak briefly about amendments 29, 30 and 31, which stand in my name and which would exempt Scottish schemes from the requirement that new schemes should link pension age with state pension age. Amendment 33 is simply a definition of what is meant by “Scottish scheme”—namely a scheme relating to those in local government, teachers, NHS workers, firefighters or the police—for the purpose of clarifying the other amendments.

On Second Reading, it was clear that the linking of normal pension age to state pension age was a central bone of contention. It has certainly been the main topic of concern mentioned to me by constituents who will be affected by the proposed changes, including teachers, NHS workers and prison officers. It has also been the top priority for unions and other staff representatives taking part in negotiations. It has been the key sticking point in those negotiations, and has caused a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty among employers.

As has been pointed out by other Members, many people who do physically demanding and stressful jobs will struggle to work into their late 60s. The change will create real difficulties and hardships for those who develop health conditions as they age. It will also make life much more complicated for employers who will have to work around and adapt to the physical limitations of employees who should really have retired.

The reason this is such an acute issue in Scotland is very simple: our life expectancy is almost two years lower than the UK average. In fact, ours is among the lowest life expectancy levels in Europe. Even given recent improvements and an upward trajectory, male life expectancy in Scotland is only 76 years and female life expectancy just over 80. We also have an unenviable health record. I have previously referred to the widening gap between rising life expectancy and what is defined as “healthy life expectancy”—the years before the average age at which people develop serious physical health problems that impair their normal day-to-day life. At present, women in Scotland have a healthy life expectancy of only 61.9 years, while for men the figure drops to 59.5. In other words, people are already having to work beyond the age at which they can expect to be in reasonably good health.

I am sorry, but Mr. Speaker has asked me to keep my remarks brief. I hope that the hon. Lady will bear with me.

A large number of people end up taking early retirement or receiving disability benefit in later middle age. The TUC has done some sterling work in highlighting the large proportion of people who are in that position. Many are having to retire early on reduced pensions, in some cases at a significant cost to their employers. When workplace pressures have contributed to the premature collapse of an employee’s health, that becomes a very costly exercise for everyone involved. I am thinking particularly of prison officers.

We know that people in physically demanding occupations and those on lower incomes die significantly earlier than affluent people in white-collar jobs. The new hon. Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) mentioned that earlier. Our public sector encompasses a range of occupations, from civil service desk and office jobs to the work done by people such as prison officers, paramedics and nurses, which places intense physical demands on them.

Although the Bill has acknowledged the physical strain that is placed on some workers, such as firefighters and police officers, it does not take proper account of the human limitations of our work force as a whole. In applying such a broad brush to changing demographics, it takes no account of occupational and geographic variances that cut across other aspects of social class. We can legislate on paper as much as we like, but forcing people to work until their health caves in is not a sustainable long-term solution for pensioners. A little more pragmatism from the Government would go a long way, not only in enabling meaningful negotiations to progress, but in designing genuinely sustainable public sector pension provision in the Scottish context for the longer term. If we do not get the design of schemes right, public sector employees are likely to lose confidence in the process, and we will run the risk of individuals choosing to opt out, with all the negative unintended consequences that entails, with additional cost to the state through means-tested benefits.

My amendments would allow the Scottish schemes to reflect the realities of Scottish circumstances, such as the persistently low life expectancy, and would provide a key flexibility in negotiations with employers, unions, and others. They would exempt Scottish schemes for which the Scottish Government have devolved responsibility from the link to the state pension age and enable meaningful negotiations to proceed with employers and unions, in the interests of not only public sector pensioners but all of us who use and value public services. I shall test the view of the House on amendment 29 and, given the debate we have had on this subject, I hope Members on both sides of the House, including Members representing Scottish constituencies, will support the amendment.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), who made some important points about Scotland.

I oppose Opposition amendments 15 and 16. It was absolutely right for the Government to continue to recognise the specific nature of the roles played by our fire and rescue workers who are firefighters and members of our police forces and armed forces, and it is right that that is reflected through having a lower retirement age. I pay tribute to the Government for recognising that and for pursuing it through legislation.

Members have talked about the issue of physicality. I agree that it is an important issue, but we should not have a specific provision on it in this Bill. In setting pensions, we have a hope that masquerades as a realistic assumption: people are living longer and we are increasing the retirement age, and we hope that people will perform their work as easily in their later years as in their younger years. We hope that is the case, but it cannot be assumed. If people do not save, they run the risk of having a period of poverty, because they might not be able to continue their work until their pensionable age, so there will be a gap in their earnings. As a nation, we have indebted ourselves over the past 20 years far more than any other country. People in this country have not saved to protect themselves financially.

I do not think this specific issue is pertinent to the Bill, however, as it covers all types of employment and all regions—not only Scotland, but the rest of the United Kingdom, too. I therefore ask the Opposition not to push their amendment to a vote as I believe a broader debate would be more appropriate.

What justification does the hon. Gentleman think there could possibly be for excluding from clause 9(2) prison officers, and in particular those in Northern Ireland, who live daily with a deadly threat from a brutal enemy called dissident republicans?

The hon. Lady has spoken eloquently and passionately about that point. I do not know whether she was present earlier when I expressed my personal view, but her point may fit in with it. In addition to the issue of physicality, in undertaking their work the people employed in the careers identified in clause 9(2) put their lives at risk. If that is the case for prison officers in Northern Ireland, too, they should be included, and I would be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary has to say about that.

Other Members want to contribute to the debate, so I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He might have an opportunity to speak later.

If we are to change the retirement age for the careers in question, we must undertake those physical tests as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who is of a similar age to me, has said that he is going to do the police test, and I have agreed that I will do the firefighter test. I reiterate his challenge to the shadow Minister and to the Minister, both of whom are at least a decade younger than us, to sign up to do those tests if we are to proceed with the Bill at the end of Third Reading. I would be very grateful to hear them accept that challenge, and indeed to hear the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), do so.

I wish to speak in support of amendments 1, 2 and 9. Amendment 2 is straightforward: it seeks to ensure that people are not forced to retire beyond the age of 65, as most of our work force have planned to retire then. On the argument that the amendment is unaffordable, let me remind hon. Members of what Hutton said about the 2007-08 changes. He said that they are likely to reduce costs to taxpayers of the pension schemes by £67 billion over 50 years, with costs stabilising at around 1% of GDP or 2% of public expenditure.

The other issue involved here is what our priorities are. The last figure I had for how much the unfunded public sector pension schemes were costing us was for 2009-10, when it was less than £4 billion. Some 60% of gross tax relief on pensions goes to higher rate taxpayers—that is £22 billion. The cost of providing tax relief to the 1% of our population who earn more than £150,000 was double the amount we are funding with regard to the public sector unfunded pensions—that is £8 billion. So the fact that we are willing to subsidise the higher paid—the rich—while forcing others to work longer and cutting their pensions at the same time reflects our priorities. That is why I have tabled the amendment: I do not accept the settlement or the Government’s rationale for these proposals.

Amendment 1 was eloquently discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), and I must declare an interest at this point: I am an honorary life member of the Prison Officers Association. One point that the POA made, which we made on Second Reading, is that if we increase the pension age for prison officers, we lose money because more of them will become injured and more will go off sick, and more cost will be incurred in compensation. The actuarial figures are there almost to prove it, so it is anomalous not to include prison officers. The point about psychiatric nurses is the role they play, particularly in institutions such as Broadmoor, where they are dealing with the most difficult cases—physical challenges—within the NHS. I find it bizarre that we are expecting police officers to retire “early” at 60—I hope we do not go to that—because of the physical nature of their jobs in dealing with criminals, yet when those criminals go into prison it appears that they no longer provide a physical challenge to the officers dealing with them then. The situation is anomalous, which is why I support the amendment to include psychiatric nurses.

I also tabled amendment 9, and this is specifically for the Fire Brigades Union. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) has said from the Front Bench, the Government have set up, in agreement with the unions, the working longer review in the NHS and the physical assessment in respect of the fire service. Evidence is piling in to those reviews—independent academic evidence, and details of physical tests that have been undertaken—to demonstrate that it is tough to do the job at 55, let alone at 60. I have seen some of the evidence put forward in the fire service review. When the previous Government increased the retirement age to 55 it was on the basis that there would be more firefighters doing preventive work and people could be redeployed into that work. This year, only 15 posts nationally have been available for redeployment, so redeployment is not an option. These people are still out there doing that physical job, and it is unacceptable to push the retirement age to 60. That is why amendment 9 would ensure that the pension schemes would be able to take into account the reviews currently taking place and that we would be able to adhere to a lower retirement age, particularly for firefighters and others as they are justified.

I am interested to hear what the Government’s responses will be, so I shall finish on this next point. Overall we seek to ensure that there is justice in the Bill, and that is certainly not the case at the moment. I reiterate that the Bill is increasing the contributions and increasing the length of time that people will be working. Given the life expectancy in my constituency, a large number of my constituents will not reach retirement age. Already, a third of all members across the schemes retire within three years of when they should normally do so because they cannot physically continue in the job. They therefore live on reduced pensions and in some poverty. My constituents will contribute more, work longer, most probably have a reduced pension at the end of it and have to retire early. That is an unjust deal when we are subsidising the wealthy through tax relief on their pensions.

I want to address a couple of issues and reinforce some of the points made in Committee. It is not good enough to say that the normal retirement age does not matter because people can retire early if they need to, as they will retire on much lower pensions—that is what actuarial reduction means. Those with many chronic conditions might have several years of suffering with the condition that has made them retire. That is not good enough.

The way in which the Bill is formulated fixes the retirement age in a way that makes it very difficult to introduce the flexibility that might be required by some scheme reviews. There will be a battle every time a review shows that there should be a lower retirement age, as the Government will be able to point to the Bill and say that that age cannot be moved as that is what Parliament voted for. However, amendment 16, for example, would allow the degree of flexibility required. Many people already do not work in the years running up to the normal retirement ages, not just across the public sector but in the private sector, too. As many are living on reduced incomes and having to dip into any savings they might have put aside for retirement, they are much more likely to become dependent on other state support in older age.

We have the big issue of longevity, but underneath that lies the fact that a substantial proportion of the population cannot even work until the normal retirement age, particularly men between 60 and 65 in many private sector jobs. Those people are already living on reduced incomes, so if we keep increasing the retirement age more and more people will be in that position.

We have had a good debate on this set of amendments, but I am afraid that for reasons of time that are beyond my control I will not have an opportunity to respond on all of them. The main theme in this group is the link between the new normal and deferred pension ages and the members’ state pension age. That will help manage the financial uncertainties associated with longevity changes over the long term. It was a key recommendation of Lord Hutton’s report and is one of the foundations of the Bill.

The average 60-year-old is now living 10 years longer than in the 1970s. Although that is to be celebrated, it would be irresponsible not to react accordingly to ensure that pension provision is sustainable. Clearly, no Government can allow such a trend to continue unchecked.

In the short time I have, I shall deal with the amendments in the order in which they have been selected and I will start with 13, 14 and 15. The deferred pension age in the new schemes is vital given the vast number of public servants who claim deferred pensions. That is why the Bill sets the deferred pension age in all schemes as equal to the state pension age, including in the police, firefighters and armed forces schemes. As Members are aware, a normal pension age of 60 in the police, firefighters and armed forces schemes is in line with Lord Hutton’s recommendations and recognises the unique nature of the work involved.

The amendments proposed by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) cannot be accepted by the Government, for two reasons. First, it would be unfair to other hard-working public servants, both those in active service and deferred members whose pension ages would be the state pension age. Of course we value the work of all our police, firefighters and armed forces, but once those people stop doing those jobs, there is no reason for them to be able to take their deferred benefits earlier than everyone else.

I am sorry, I do not have time.

There is no reason for those workers to be able to take their deferred benefits earlier than everyone else because they are no longer exposed to the unique characteristics of their former employment and no longer need an earlier pension age in respect of them.

Secondly, we must consider the cost. As we are all aware, the costs of pensions are increasing owing to increases in life expectancy. The state pension age link for deferred benefits is a crucial means of getting those costs under control. For example, if a firefighter leaves service at the age of 30 to work, say, as a civil servant in an office for the rest of his career, should his pension still be available unreduced at the age of 60?

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 29 October).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the amendment be made.

Question negatived.

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Amendment proposed: 29, page 5, line 21, after ‘section 1’, insert

‘(other than a Scottish scheme)’.—(Dr Whiteford.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Amendment proposed: 16, page 5, line 29, at end insert—

‘(2A) Subsections (1) and (2) shall not apply in relation to any category of public service worker as the Secretary of State may by order specify following the publication of a scheme specific capability review.’.—(Chris Leslie.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Clause 18

Final salary link

Amendment made: 35, page 11, line 3, at end insert ‘(and see section 28(14))’.—(Sajid Javid.)

Clause 33

General interpretation

Amendments made: 36, page 18, line 28, after ‘person’s’ insert ‘pensionable’.

Amendment 37,  page 18, line 29, after ‘representative’ insert ‘pensionable’.—(Sajid Javid.)

Schedule 5

Existing pension schemes

Amendment made: 38, page 41, line 17, at end insert—

‘(2) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1), “compensation benefits” includes benefits by way of payments for resettlement or retraining.’.—(Sajid Javid.)

Schedule 6

Existing injury and compensation schemes

Amendment made: 39, page 43, line 3, at end insert—

‘(2) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1), “compensation benefits” includes benefits by way of payments for resettlement or retraining.’.—(Sajid Javid.)

Schedule 11

Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Commons Speaker

Amendments made: 40, page 57, line 20, at the beginning insert ‘Subject to sub-paragraph (2)’.

Amendment 41, page 57, line 23, at end insert—

‘(2) In relation to a term of service as Lord Chancellor beginning on or after 4 September 2012 (but before the day on which section 30 comes into force), the amendments made by paragraph 1 have effect from—

(a) the day on which section 30 comes into force, or

(b) if later, the day after that on which the term of service ceases.’.—(Sajid Javid.)

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I would like to reflect on the importance of this Bill. First, I reiterate the debt of gratitude that this House owes to Lord Hutton of Furness for his comprehensive and adept work with the independent public service pensions commission. The consensus that his report and recommendations have engendered is testament to the care and thoroughness with which he and his team carried out that critical work.

For decades, successive Governments have failed to address the fact that the existing framework for public service pensions is unresponsive to work force and demographic changes. The simple and fundamental truth is that current schemes are not fit for purpose, and they have not responded effectively to the unprecedented improvements in longevity that we have seen over the last 50 years. Largely as a result of people living longer, the cost of providing public service pensions has increased by 40% over that period. At the same time, the number of active, deferred and pensioner members of schemes has risen significantly.

Since 1971 the number of active members has increased by 23% to 5.3 million. At the same time, pensioner member numbers increased by more than 260%, from 1.6 million to 4.2 million. Deferred member data are available only from 1991, when there were 1.2 million preserved public service pensions. There are 3.4 million today. Most of the people who entered public service when the schemes were last fundamentally assessed have now retired.

I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend’s flow, but will he clarify the application of the fair deal policy to the local government pension scheme?

We discussed that earlier. Transfers from local government are currently covered by an equivalent policy to fair deal. The Government are considering how most appropriately to apply the principles of the new fair deal policy to the LGPS, but our commitment on fair access to transferred staff stands and applies, including to members of the LGPS.

People are now expected to live significantly longer than the generation that went before them—an average of 10 years more than someone retiring in the 1970s. The increasing numbers of people with public service pensions and improvements in longevity have led to significant increases in the number of pensions that are being paid. Consequently, the cost of paying pensions has increased to £32 billion per year—an increase of a third in the past decade.

Other, similar European countries have a younger retirement age and more generous pensions. Why are we so different?

The hon. Gentleman perhaps has Greece in mind. Many countries that fit his description are suffering significant problems. To take another example, retirement ages in Germany, which is one of the largest countries in Europe, are in many cases higher than those in Britain.

The employer, and therefore the taxpayer, has borne nearly all the additional cost, which has led to an imbalance in the sharing of costs between members and other taxpayers. The imbalance will be corrected only by the reforms we have introduced.

The Minister makes an important point on tax, but this is the largest bill for the taxpayer that this Parliament will pass—we are passing a £1 trillion bill on to current and future taxpayers. I applaud him and the Government for protecting lower-paid public sector workers from pension changes, for protecting the retirement age, and for career-average schemes, but does he accept that we are still asking taxpayers working in both the public and private sectors to pay an enormous bill for public sector pensions?

My hon. Friend made passionate contributions in Committee, where he made that same point. I will say the same thing in reply. The Bill and other changes we have made to public sector pensions deliver significant cost savings for the Government and future taxpayers, but maintain our commitment to generous, fair pensions that are sustainable in the long term for people who serve in the public sector.

The Bill is not simply about bringing costs under control and ensuring that schemes are sustainable. We are also seeking to address issues of unfairness that exist within the current scheme designs.

The Minister mentions unfairness. Does he agree that one of the greatest unfairnesses was when the previous Government got rid of advance corporation tax relief on pension funds, which destroyed the private sector pensions industry and left many private sector workers much worse off than this excellent Bill?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—the change to which she refers had a dramatically negative impact on private sector pensions.

The benefit structure of many existing schemes has led to benefits being disproportionately directed towards higher earners.

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on previous Governments, is the Minister aware that the previous Conservative Government’s decision to ensure that employers could no longer mandate their employees to be in occupational schemes had one of the single biggest impacts on the quality of occupational pensions in the round in this country? The Thatcher Government put that measure through in the 1980s.