Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 1
Funder of the last resort
“Notwithstanding the provisions of section 8, the Secretary of State shall make provision for a funder of last resort, to manage any cases where the Master Trust has insufficient resources to meet the cost of complying with subsection (3)(b) of that section.”—(Alex Cunningham.)
This new clause ensures that the Secretary of State will make provisions for a last resort if a Master Trust were to face difficulty.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Member trustees—
“(1) By a date to be set by the Secretary of State in regulations, approved Master Trust Schemes must ensure that at least a third of the trustees of the scheme are Member Trustees.
(2) Member Trustees must be individuals who are—
(a) members of the Master Trust scheme; and
(b) not members of senior management of a company that is enrolled in the Master Trust scheme.
(3) Member Trustees must be appointed by a process in which—
(a) any member of the scheme who meets the condition in subsection (2) is to apply to be a Member Trustee,
(b) all the active members of the scheme, or an organisation which adequately represents the active members, are eligible to participate in the selection of the Member Trustees, and
(c) all the deferred members of the scheme, or an organisation which adequately represents the deferred members, are eligible to participate in the selection of the Member Trustees.
(4) Member Trustees should be given sufficient time off by their employer to fulfil their duties.
(5) For the purpose of this clause “senior management”, in relation to an organisation, means the persons who play significant roles in—
(a) the making of decisions about how the whole or a substantial part of its activities are to be managed or organised, or
(b) the actual managing or organising of the whole or a substantial part of those activities.”
This new clause requires Master Trusts to make provision for some form of member representation within Master Trusts.
New clause 3—Member representation and engagement—
“One year on from the registration of Master Trusts by the Pensions Regulator, the Government will fully review member trustee representation, member engagement and annual member meetings.”
This new clause requires the Government to set up a review into member representation and engagement within Master Trusts.
New clause 4—Requirement to hold an Annual Member Meeting—
“(1) The trustees of an authorised Master Trust scheme must hold an annual meeting open to all members of the scheme.
(2) The Master Trust must take all reasonable steps to make the meeting accessible to all members, this includes making arrangements for—
(a) scheme members to observe the meeting remotely, and
(b) scheme members to submit questions to trust members remotely.”
This new clause requires Master Trusts to hold an Annual Member Meeting, and sets out ways to ensure members are properly given the opportunity to be involved.
New clause 5—Excluded groups—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months from the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent, establish a review of participation in Master Trust schemes.
(2) The review must consider what steps can be taken to increase the participation in Master Trust schemes by the following groups—
(c) workers with multiple employees, and
(d) workers with annual earnings below £10,000.
(3) One of the options considered by the review to improve participation must be changes to the terms of auto-enrolment.”
This new clause enshrines the requirement on the Government to do something specific for currently excluded groups.
New clause 6—Exit fees—
“(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations restrict or set limits to exit fees paid by members of a Master Trust scheme.
(2) For the purposes of section (1) “members” includes past and current, active and deferred members.”
This new clause makes provision for the Secretary of State to restrict exit fees paid by Master Trust schemes’ members.
New clause 7—Asset protection for unincorporated businesses—
“The Secretary of State must, by regulations, make provision to amend section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995 in order to protect unincorporated businesses who are at risk of losing their personal assets including their homes.”
New clause 8—Review of actuarial mechanisms for valuing pension scheme liabilities—
“Within six calendar months from the day on which this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State must conduct a review of the actuarial mechanisms used to value pension scheme liabilities under section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995.”
New clause 9—Non-associated multi-employer schemes: orphan debt—
“The Secretary of State must, by regulations, exclude from the calculation in section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995 the orphan debt in any non-associated multi-employer scheme.”
Amendment 5, in clause 8, page 5, line 41, after “scheme” insert “or scheme funder”.
The financial sustainability of the scheme funder must be taken into account when assessing a Master Trust scheme’s financial sustainability.
Amendment 6, in clause 11, page 8, line 1, leave out subsection (b) and insert—
“(b) either the only activities carried out by the body corporate or partnership are activities that relate directly to the Master Trust scheme, or if the body corporate or partnership carries out activities other than those defined as “restricted activities.””
This amendment allows for exceptions to the requirement that a scheme funder must only carry out activities directly relating to the Master Trust scheme for which it is a scheme funder.
Amendment 1, page 8, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) A minimum requirement of annual reporting of administration, fund management costs and transaction costs for each asset class, drawdown product and for active and passive asset management strategies.”
This amendment would introduce annual reporting and inclusion of transaction costs requirements for Master Trusts.
Amendment 7, in clause 10, page 7, line 23, at end insert—
“(6A) The Secretary of State may by regulations define “restricted activities” and these regulations must set out activities that a scheme funder cannot engage in to minimise risk of losses or liabilities which might deplete or divert its financial resources.”
This amendment makes provision for the Secretary of State to define “restricted activities” by regulation, including a list of specific activities restricted in order to minimise risk of loss by Master Trust scheme funders.
Amendment 2, in clause 22, page 16, line 28, after “employers” insert “and scheme members”.
This amendment ensures that scheme members are told of triggering events as well as employers.
Amendment 4, in clause 31, page 23, line 16, leave out paragraph (d).
This amendment removes the part that allows Master Trusts to halt making payments to pensioners in the event of a pause order.
Amendment 3, page 23, line 27, at end insert—
“(f) directive that employers will retain both their own and employee contributions pending resolution of the pause order.”
This amendment requires employers to hold onto employee and employer contributions during a pause order.
Amendment 8, page 23, line 27, at end insert—
“(f) a direction that further contributions or payments to be paid towards the scheme by or on behalf of any employers or members (or any specified employers or members) are collected and held in a separate fund until the conclusion of the pause order;”
This amendment provides the Pensions Regulator with an alternative to stopping payments to the schemes under subsection 5(b) of a pause order.
Amendment 9, page 23, line 39, at end insert—
“(7A) The Secretary of State may by regulations set conditions on the terms of a separate fund used for purposes under section 5(f).”
This amendment is consequential to amendment 8.
Generally speaking, this is a good Bill, and it goes a long way to properly regulating master trusts and looking after the interests of the pension scheme members. Sadly, it does not address the WASPI issue, which we raised on Second Reading and in Committee, as it has been ruled out of scope of the Bill. However, I am pleased to report that Stockton Borough Council backed the WASPI women. Tory councillors abstained on the vote, so clearly they are not very happy with the Government either.
There are a number of aspects of the Bill that could still be improved and that could better protect and inform scheme members. Sadly, after the Commons Committee stage, it was clear that we had failed to convince the Government of that, but having reviewed the Minister’s arguments we still believe that a number of issues need to be covered on Report this afternoon.
New clause 1 returns to the issue of a funder of last resort for master trusts. Contrary to the written statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Pensions, which we received on Monday, the removal of this clause is significant, and I was surprised that he felt that it was not. This new clause looks to ensure that, in the event of a master trust failing, there is a funder of last resort— somebody in place who guarantees that scheme members are not left out of pocket through no fault of their own. This would, in effect, act as a final underpinning of the promises that have been made to scheme members, giving them recourse to a legally established funding organisation committed to making good on scheme member dues. When this was debated in Committee, the Minister refused to back this most sensible of additions to the regulations of the Bill, arguing that it would place an unnecessary additional burden, that the new regulatory regime was sufficient to make the risk of collapse absolutely minimal, that existing master trusts would pick up any scheme members affected by their master trust failing, and that the Government were consulting the industry on the creation of a panel of white knights, who would commit to stepping in to ensure that all scheme members are protected.
I am glad that we have the Minister on record saying that there is no chance of a master trust going bust under the regulatory regime that this Bill creates. It is clearly a gamble that he is willing to take. Opposition Members are not prepared to gamble with people’s pension savings. In order to best protect scheme members, we need the strongest possible regulatory environment in place. Unlike the Minister, we are not content to leave things to chance.
We have support from the industry itself for these proposals. For example, the chair of the Standard Life master trust has called on the Government to be the funder of last resort, because
“their policy foul-ups have allowed the proliferation of unsustainable Master Trusts.”
It is interesting that the Minister plans for a panel of white knights. Does that suggest that he does accept that there is a chance that a master trust might slip through his regulatory regime and leave scheme members unprotected? If he does, why not go the whole way and put the proper guarantees in the Bill? There is simply no guarantee that another trust will choose to pick up one that is failing. Why would it? What obligation does it have and why would it be in its interests to do so? Yes, there have been a few pragmatic actions in this area, but nothing is guaranteed.
We all know that the pensions industry and the financial services industry have seen plenty of failures. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what happens if a large master trust fails and the data are in a mess and take months to cleanse before getting members transferred to a new scheme. We cannot simply hope that another trust will just pick that up. Instead, we must intervene now to ensure a proper back-up plan. The Government must prepare for the worst-case scenario, and nothing I have seen so far convinces me that Ministers are doing so.
We need a funder of last resort because we must be able to predict what could happen, even if there is only the slightest chance of it happening, and ensure that we have a plan of protection in place. I ask again: why will the Minister not provide people all over this country with a 100% assurance that the Bill without this provision is enough to protect members. If he is to ignore our sensible new clause, he must guarantee that no master trust will be in a situation in which it has failed and has insufficient resources to meet costs. In the absence of greater clarity, it is essential that this new clause is in the Bill.
I now turn to new clause 2 and the issue of member-nominated trustees for master trusts. I remind the House that all the investment risk lies with the member and not the sponsor or the provider of the scheme, and they should therefore have representation at decision-making levels of the scheme. The Pensions Act 1995 introduced the requirement for company pension schemes to have member-nominated trustees. If the scheme’s sole trustee is a company, including the employer rather than individuals, scheme members will have the right to nominate directors of that company—member-nominated directors. The Pensions Act 2004 enshrined the right to have at least one third scheme member trustees of a trust-based scheme. The Pensions Regulator is clear that master trusts are covered by this legislation, which is why some already have member-nominated trustees. What the regulator offers in explanation is that there are exemptions that can be taken by master trust, giving the reasoning that having a pool of members greater than a single employer-based scheme poses problems of choice. We find that an inadequate reason for exemption. The greater the number of members, surely the bigger the pool of choice.
We do not agree that independent trustees can adequately represent the fiduciary interests of members if they have no stake in the investment process. What is more, they are paid and chosen by the master trust. This exemption seems like a convenient way of denying the right to representation by those who do have a material interest in the performance of the master trust. We have returned today with an amendment that seeks to give scheme members the law to which they should be automatically entitled. In these circumstances, my references to MNTs apply equally to MNDs.
The Association of Member Nominated Trustees is adamant that master trusts must be obliged to have member representation on their boards. However, it is no surprise that a master trust is lobbying against that. Such companies are mostly profit-making entities. However, it is in their own best interests that they have scheme member representation to win the confidence of the scheme members. The role of the MNT and the trustee boards is sometimes underplayed or undervalued. The Association of Member Nominated Trustees said:
“Members are particularly comforted by having an MNT presence for their scheme. It helps them to feel reassured their retirement interests are truly being met and understood most importantly, but also that they aren’t being ripped off in excessive costs and charges.”
They are the only ones who have no personal interest or gain; their only interests are those of the member. ShareAction also agrees that savers should be able to subject decisions made on their behalf to a healthy degree of scrutiny and challenge.
Ensuring effective governance for pension schemes remains a challenge. Although trust-based schemes benefit from a clear governing body in the form of the trustees, there is a clear absence of member-nominated trustees in the majority of master trusts. However, although some companies choose to operate a trust-based defined contribution scheme, most new auto-enrolled members will not find themselves saving into one. Instead, the vast majority of people will find themselves saving into a master trust or a group personal pension arrangement. In those schemes, member representation on governance boards is far more rare. At this point, I wish to refer back to the concerns that the Pensions Regulator made about master trust governance. In January 2013, said:
“We have identified a number of characteristics that, if present, may prevent these schemes from delivering good outcomes. These are: conflicts of interest as a result of the relationship between the provider and trustees; decision-making powers vested with the provider rather than trustees; a lack of independent oversight in some master trusts – unlike traditional occupational DC schemes, member and employer representatives are unlikely to be involved in important decision-making processes”.
Yes, the Bill may go some way to addressing these concerns, but it does not go far enough. We can build greater trust in the system; increase diversity and bring a range of different perspectives and experiences; and highlight areas that are of interest to members. Once again, we find no real impediment to this amendment. The law requiring master trusts to have scheme member trustees applies and exemption does exist, but that need not be required and should, in our view, be overridden.
Continuing with the theme of engaging with members, I will now address new clause 3. It requires that, one year on from the incorporation and registration of master trusts by the Pensions Regulator, the Government will fully review member-trustee representation, member engagement and annual general meetings for members.
The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that there is a review of the new master trust governance and member engagement processes. Pensions Regulator guidance stressed the importance of understanding and engaging with members to define objectives for the scheme and setting an appropriate strategy—for example, the TPR code of practice 13 on governance and administration of occupational trust-based schemes providing money purchase benefits.
TPR has stacks of advice on these issues for master trusts to follow, but we want a commitment from the Government that they will ensure that master trusts are operating in the interests of members and that the potential of a conflict of interest—in other words, the profit motive—does not get in the way. We need to make sure that there is an opportunity for experienced eyes to take a good look at the system a year after its creation. If there are risks, they must be accounted for. One way to do that is to form a Government inspection of the system.
I turn to new clause 4, which requires master trusts to hold an annual member meeting and sets out ways to ensure that members are properly given the opportunity to be involved. It is now common practice for pension funds to hold a meeting with members on an annual basis. Good member communications, provided at the right time and in an accessible format, are vital if members are to engage and make decisions that lead to good outcomes in retirement. In the Committee debate, the Minister suggested:
“Documents relating to the governance of a scheme, such as the trustees’ annual report, the chair’s statement and the statement of investment principles, have to be provided on request.”––[Official Report,Pension Schemes Public Bill Committee; 9 February 2017 c. 118.]
Having to request information about what one is paying for is the wrong way round. Let us not forget that many master trusts are profit making, so members should be given information as a matter of routine and not by request.
An annual meeting for members ensures that trustees and administrators can be made human and accountable rather than being at some distant, bureaucratic and faceless place. Trustee boards should regularly review member communications and, when deciding on the format of communications, take account of innovations and technology that may be available to them and appropriate to their members. That would allow the more engaged members to hear a presentation from trustees and senior executives about how the scheme has managed their retirement assets over the previous year and what plans the scheme has to deliver strategy and manage risk into the future on behalf of members.
Pensions Regulator guidance accompanying its new DC code highlights AMMs as one way in which multi-employer schemes can stay close to members. Through the new clause, master trusts would be brought into line with normal practice in the corporate sector and among the growing number of pension schemes.
I want to return at new clause 5 to the issue of groups currently excluded from master trust saving—specifically carers, the self-employed, those working multiple jobs and people on low incomes. As it stands, the Bill does not expand the successful auto-enrolment policy: that could have made a real difference to a number of groups who, the evidence suggests, are not saving adequately for their retirement. The Minister and I debated this issue in Committee, so I shall return to the issue only briefly.
As I recognised then, the Government have announced a review relating to the operation of auto-enrolment into master trust savings. Currently, however, the scope of that review is too broad, with few specifics set out to keep the Government to their word. The evidence speaks for itself: too many people are not putting enough away to guarantee the secure and dignified retirement that the Labour party has always worked to provide and continues to strive towards today.
Some 37% of female workers, 33% of workers with a disability and 28% of black and minority ethnic workers are not eligible for master trust savings through auto-enrolment, according to the latest DWP statistics. In Committee, the Minister suggested that gender equality was not an issue under auto-enrolment savings; I suspect that he may have been referring to the participation rate among eligible employees, which is fairly equal between genders. The statistics that I have cited, however, relate to those not eligible, and I believe women are over-represented. Perhaps the Minister can look again at the issue and write if he has evidence to the contrary.
On the specific groups, I would like to press the Minister on the issue of carers, who, as we know, make such a vital contribution to our society, public services and economy. In Committee, the Minister suggested that he would like carers to be included under the Government’s review of auto-enrolment, but accepted that they are not currently specified. May I push him to commit explicitly to including carers under the terms of the review now? I am sure that it would be of great comfort to our carers if they knew that their situation was being looked at specifically by the Government.
I turn to the self-employed, about whom the Government have recently had a lot to say—although I note that they have gone quiet about them in the past week. I wonder why. I was, however, pleased to hear the Minister confirm that self-employed people are included in his review. Similarly, it is good that those with multiple jobs are being included. I was interested in the Minister’s point in Committee that those earning more than £6,000 could access master trust savings and would be provided with the same support from their employer and tax incentives. Will the Minister perhaps write to me or address the House today clarifying the policy on this point? What are the Government doing to ensure that all eligible people are aware of this particular right under the law?
Those on low incomes will need to be addressed. I hope that the Government will go further than merely freezing the trigger threshold, as appears to be their current approach, and lower it to ensure that many more people are included in master trust saving.
I met representatives of Royal London last week and they asked why every pound earned is not taken into account for employee and employer contributions. Will the Minister also add that issue to his review? Share Action has also contacted me about auto-enrolment, saying
“that many employees are saving at the minimum level and show little interest of emotional connection to their workplace pension fund, and therefore we believe the second phase of auto-enrolment needs to be focused on governance, choice and communication, getting people personally engaged with their pension savings”.
Does the Minister agree?
Given the Minister’s responses on the expansion of eligibility for auto-enrolment, I fail to see why the Government would not accept the new clause. Should the Minister be committed to enfranchising these excluded groups into master trust savings? Why not make that intention clear in the Bill today?
I now turn to amendment 1, which applies not only to the Bill but to the whole industry: it is about transparency. Opening the Second Reading debate on the Bill, the Secretary of State said:
“Transparency is a key area. Hidden costs and charges often erode savers’ pensions. We are committed to giving members sight of all the costs that affect their pension savings.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 756.]
On that, the Secretary of State and I agree. I am pleased that he has put on the public record the fact that costs erode savers’ pensions. That is the line within the 2015 Dutch central bank report, which said:
“Investment costs are an important determinant of pension fund performance. High investment costs can significantly impact beneficiaries’ wealth and consumption, as they reduce the net rate of return on investments and subsequently raise the costs of providing pensions.”
Despite the Secretary of State’s statement and that of the Dutch central bank, the Government have resisted any attempt to do something about the situation, always promising that something will or may be done, but never doing very much.
The Government hide behind the issue of complexity, but they have already negotiated with the Investment Association the tools to deal with that. The only area of pension funds that is ready to be analysed is those used by the local government pension scheme. The cost data are due to be collected this year by the scheme advisory board and endorsed by the Minister to ensure that they are delivering best value for sponsors and members alike.
The architecture to get, analyse and present the data is the same process of discussion with a view to being built and will form a platform from which other projects, including the value for money analysis needed for all workplace pensions, and that can be delivered. I believe that the Minister is a fan of this work, too, so I would hope that he and his Government would recognise that the easiest and most efficient way of ensuring that data for master trusts are collected is to adopt the LGPS-Investment Association cost template. That, after all, has been sanctioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the data points agreed with the Investment Association members, who in the main will be the same suppliers of asset management to the LGPS and master trusts.
The amendment’s purpose is to lay down the reporting obligations of master trusts. At the moment, they will report only on administration and asset management fees. All that the amendment requires is the additional reporting of the implicit costs, which could be found by using the LGPS template. The only obstruction to this process is the Government. The situation is contradictory: why have this arrangement in one section of our pension system and not in another? The Government are holding back scheme members from getting the best value. Employers, master trusts and independent governance committees cannot deliver under the current arrangements. There is nothing simpler than setting out a requirement for the reporting of explicit and implicit costs; it is the will to introduce the process that is the problem.
Members must be able to discern the impact of trading on their funds. In Committee, the Minister said:
“the bit of the FCA review that the hon. Members for Stockton North and for Ross, Skye and Lochaber mentioned in fact makes the point not that active fund managers have more costs, but that over a period of time there is not much difference in returns.”—[Official Report, Pension Schemes Public Bill Committee, 7 February 2017; c. 55.]
However, the FCA actually reported that it was comparing
“the net return on a £20,000 investment over 20 years to show the impact of charges. Assuming, for illustrative purposes, that both funds earn the same return before charges (the average FTSE all share growth), an investor in a typical low cost passive fund would earn £9,455 more on a £20,000 investment”—
an improvement of 24.8%—
“than an investor in a typical active fund, and this number could rise to £14,439”—
an increase of 44.4%—
“once transaction costs have been taken into account.”
The FCA’s evidence is clear: investing in a low-cost passive fund delivers more return than investing in an active fund. That is why it is so important to change the reporting requirements of master trusts. We can look to the Netherlands experience: it is a requirement that all Dutch pension funds report on administration, fund management and transactions. The Society of Pension Professionals agrees with us that
“the key is to make sure that the information given to consumers is sufficient to empower them, and provide customers with simple and objective comparisons to enable them to choose the best products and providers”.
The amendment would help the Government, master trusts and, most importantly, scheme members to match the best model in practice reporting.
Amendment 2 would also increase transparency and ensure that members are properly informed—in this case, if a triggering event affecting their pension is in place. In Committee, the Minister replied to the amendment with the assumption that members are passive recipients of the process. He said:
“Remember, many members do not take an active decision to join; they join through their employer. They are not actively engaged in the scheme; their employer is the conduit”.—[Official Report, Pension Schemes Public Bill Committee, 7 February 2017; c. 63.]
Such a paternalistic approach does our citizens a disservice. The Government reject all attempts to reform the Bill to make it more member-focused. That approach labels members as passive recipients, not engaged participants. The Government’s policy is to place responsibility on the individual to take care of their pension provision, yet they seem to be standing in the way of members being given the information and representation that would allow them to make informed decisions. Why is the Government’s policy so contradictory?
The member’s pension pot is theirs, not the employers, so they should, by rights, have natural justice and be informed. In the amendment, we simply seek to ensure that the information on triggering events flows through the communication chain when those events happen, and if and when they are resolved. If members found out only at second hand that such an event had happened—an event that affected their hard-earned cash—that would be bound to result in lower levels of trust. How would hon. Members feel if no one told them there was an issue over their pension pot? This is a simple chain of events; if the information can go to employers, it should go to members too, and there is no good reason for that not to happen in this electronic age.
I would now like to turn to amendment 4, on pause orders, which are also very much about responsibilities to pension scheme members. A pause order is put in place by the Pensions Regulator if it is satisfied that making an order will help the trustees to carry out their implementation strategy or if there is an immediate risk to the interests of scheme members or to the scheme’s assets.
In Committee, Labour Members submitted an amendment on pause orders, because we felt there was nothing to protect pensioners in the event of a master trust being paused. I gave the example of a hypothetical but potentially very real elderly woman who relied on her pension from a master trust and who had little income without it. A pause order can last up to six months, and the master trust can opt not to pay out pensions—that is potentially six months during which elderly and vulnerable people would have to find alternative means to survive. That is not acceptable.
I also referred to the likely circumstance where our elderly woman has not even been informed of the pause order because there seems to be no requirement for anybody to inform her. I put a question to the Minister on this matter in Committee, due to the lack of clarity. I was grateful for his reply, in which he said that existing legislation ensures that the regulator will notify any person who is to be directly affected by regulatory actions exercised through the regulator’s statutory internal procedures. I hope he will clarify today exactly when a scheme member would be informed in those circumstances.
It is appalling that pensioners are being denied access to their own pension money in such circumstances. I have been assured that members’ pots are protected in this situation, even in the event of a pause order. If that is the case, why would master trusts be unable to continue making payments to pensioners, who may be vulnerable and reliant on a regular payment from their pension pot? It is bizarre that the Government are so calm about the potential repercussions on the vulnerable if payments are stopped.
The Minister has also said that the stopping of payments would happen only in the rarest of circumstances. I hope he will take this opportunity to tell the House what those circumstances could be, and that he will provide scheme members with the assurance that they would not lose out during a pause order. Labour would go further by amending the clause and insisting that pensioners were still able to receive their payments.
I have submitted a completely new amendment 3 because I am concerned that the pausing of payments into the scheme under a pause order is fundamentally against what auto-enrolment sought to achieve. As it stands, the Bill would mean that if a pause order had been put on a master trust, the trust would no longer receive contributions from the employer or employee.
I note there is a similar amendment from the SNP, and I believe we are trying to achieve the same things. [Interruption.] I do not think I am trying to achieve the same things at the moment, as SNP Members are chatting among themselves, but I can assure them that we are trying to achieve the same things on pause orders.
While I agree that the master trusts will be in no fit state to continue taking contributions, I do not agree that, as a result, members will simply get their contributions back into their pay packet and employers will be let off making their contributions. Our amendment would ensure that, despite the pause orders being in place, the contributions made by the employee and the employer would not be lost. That is particularly important for low earners, when a potential six-month pause order could see them lose out on important and vital contributions. At this point, the Minister may be thinking that a pause order is unlikely to last six months, but it can.
Our amendment proposes that, in the event of a pause order, the employer will retain the contributions they would have made, and the contributions the employee would have made, until the pause order is lifted. It may be argued that the contributions the employee would retain could be saved by the individuals themselves, but the pot would still be without the pension contributions from the employer. Why, through no fault of their own, should the employee lose those contributions to their pension? Does the Minister agree that workers should not lose out on employer contributions during a pause order? I am concerned that if we do not put measures in place to actively protect people, even with the smallest chance that something might go wrong, we will have failed them.
In conclusion, I am concerned that a lack of transparency in the scheme is a problem, and that that problem lies with insurance companies and master trusts. I am concerned about the low paid; the person with multiple jobs; women; people under 22; carers; and the self-employed, who have not been looked after by this Bill. I am concerned that the Government have removed the funder of last resort clause, which the Labour Lords succeeded in putting into the Bill. These are all issues that, I assure the Minister, we will continue to debate. However, for now, I look forward to his response to the new clauses and amendments I have highlighted.
There is much in this Bill that I would commend. It rightly introduces regulation for master trusts and will help to shape confidence in pension savings, particularly for auto-enrolment. In Committee we sought to work constructively with the Government to bring forward new clauses and amendments to enhance the Bill as well as to deal with other shortcomings in the pensions landscape appropriate to the Bill. The Minister knows that my approach to the landscape of pensions and savings is to work constructively where we can to encourage consumer participation. Although there is much else in the field of pensions that I would like to see enhanced and on which greater clarity should be delivered, I congratulate the Government, and particularly the Minister, on bringing forward this Bill.
The Bill builds consumer protection for master trusts and is an important step forward in enhancing the appeal of auto-enrolment. We will be reviewing auto-enrolment later this year, but it is important that we the opportunity of this proposed legislation to make sure that we have the appropriate regulatory steps in place. I urge that when we review auto-enrolment we look positively at how we can substantially take it forward for part-time workers who have been excluded—many with multiple jobs, particularly women, as well as the self-employed—charting a way forward that builds pensions entitlement, hopefully in a way that builds consensus, and perhaps avoiding the screeching U-turn that we saw from the Minister’s colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in recent days.
This is a serious subject, and this Bill should be seen as part of a wider debate as to how we increase pension savings, building trust in the pensions savings industry. I was struck to read in the Government’s Green Paper on defined-benefits schemes published last month that the average DB scheme payment is as little as £7,000 per annum. We also have a research paper from Met Life this week highlighting income challenges threatening pension freedom, as well as a paper from the Centre for Policy Studies that raises, among other issues, challenges around drawdown.
It is clear that collectively there is more to do to encourage trust and confidence in pension savings—in particular, that all are encouraged to save at an appropriate level to secure dignity in retirement. On that basis, SNP Members will work constructively with the Government on this agenda. In the meantime, the Bill is a welcome step forward. I hope in that spirit of engaging positively the Minister will give careful consideration to the new clauses and amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) and I have tabled. They should be seen as seeking to improve the Bill; they are not in any way, shape or form wrecking amendments.
New clause 6 makes provision for the Secretary of State to restrict exit fees paid by master trust scheme members. It is not clear to us why master trust members should have to pay any exit charges. It is welcome that the Government are placing a 1% cap on exit fees for current members, with no exit fee for new members, but why the threat of exit fees for existing members? Large fees have been charged on exit on the past, and it is clear that we need to protect savers. I asked the Minister to confirm at earlier stages that there would be no exit fee for an individual leaving a master trust. He responded that when a master trust was closing it could not levy a charge, but I would appreciate it if we could make it explicit in all cases that fees should not be levied.
New clause 7 would require the Secretary of State, by regulations, to make provision to amend section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995 in order to protect unincorporated businesses that are at risk of losing their personal assets, including their homes. New clause 8 would require, within six calendar months from the day on which this Act comes into force, that the Secretary of State must conduct a review of the actuarial mechanisms used to value pension scheme liabilities under section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995. New clause 9 would compel the Secretary of State to, by regulations, exclude from the calculation in section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995 the orphan debt in any non-associated multi-employer scheme.
These new clauses would help to deal with the current issue facing plumbers in Scotland. Plumbing Pensions (UK) Ltd was established in 1975 to provide pensions for the plumbing and heating industry UK-wide. The scheme is managed by a group of trustee directors appointed from nominees of the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors in England and Wales, the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers Federation, and Unite the union. The scheme has over 36,000 members and assets in excess of £1.5 billion. Under section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995, employers can in certain circumstances become liable for what is known as a section 75 employer debt. The debt is calculated on a “buy-out” basis, which tests whether there would be sufficient assets in the scheme to secure all the members’ benefits by buying annuity contracts from an insurance company. Legislation specifies that a section 75 employer debt becomes payable when the employer either becomes insolvent, winds up, changes its legal status, or ceases to have any active members in the scheme. While we must be mindful that the purpose of these rules is to protect pension benefits, the way in which they are currently framed creates problems for some stakeholders. We are sympathetic to the concerns raised by SNIPEF.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is because of such examples as he has touched on of unincorporated businesses at risk of losing personal assets that it is so pertinent that the Government bring forward the solution right now rather than wait for the opportunity to pass?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. These are complex issues. That is why we make the suggestion that we are willing to work with the Government on this. We have to find a solution to this because at the end of the day ordinary people who have done the right thing could now be faced with losing their house, and that cannot be right. This issue has to be resolved.
There are a number of options for the UK Government to consider but each one has complications for the pension schemes, employers and scheme members. We urge the Government to weigh up the interests of employers with the need to protect benefits for pension scheme members. The former Pensions Minister in the other place, Baroness Altmann, indicated that she would look closely at how a solution could be reached to this complex issue. We need the same assurances from the Minister that he will work to find a solution for the industry and use this Bill to bring forward a solution.
SNIPEF’s four objectives are to achieve an amendment to section 75 debt legislation, as its main concern is for those involved in the unincorporated businesses that my hon. Friend mentioned who are at risk of losing their personal assets including their homes. It wants the Government to conduct a review of the actuarial methods used to value pension scheme liabilities, as it believes that the calculation of section 75 employer debt on a full annuity buyout basis is inappropriate and detrimental to non-associated multi-employer schemes given current economic conditions. It argues that orphan debt in any non-associated multi-employer scheme should be excluded from the calculation of section 75 employer debt. It suggests that provided the scheme is deemed to be prudently funded, the PPF acts as guarantor of last resort for orphan liabilities. It also believes that any changes in legislation should apply retrospectively to all employers from 2005. It would be helpful to get the Government’s view on this request. SNIPEF recently met the Minister, and it has advised SNP MPs that he confirmed that the objectives may have been incorporated within the Green Paper. We are now interested to hear the Government’s view as to whether they have identified a solution.
I want briefly to make passing reference to my two new clauses that have not been selected for debate, and signal my disappointment about that. New clause 10 would require the Secretary of State to identify support for women affected by the changes to the timetable for state pension age equalisation. We are disappointed that a pensions Bill has not been brought forward to deal with the pressing injustices within the pensions system.
Order. We do not discuss new clauses that have not been selected. We have to deal with what is before us and that is the new clauses on the selection list. I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to stay in order by dealing with those, not those that have been omitted.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am happy to receive the guidance that you have given me. I simply wanted to put on record that we had missed the opportunity to debate the measures today. I know that we will have the opportunity to raise these two issues again, so I will skip on without making any further reference to them.
The SNP believes that we need to look holistically at the problems inherent in the system and build on opportunities such as auto-enrolment. Only by giving pensions thoughtful consideration can the Tories get this right. With alarm bells ringing about the injustices facing the WASPI women, and concerns that we could see another hike in the state pension age, even the idea that the Government are contemplating reviewing the triple lock post 2020 is deeply troubling. If I may say so, we know that only by delivering an independent Scotland can the SNP deliver dignity in retirement.
I turn to amendment 5, which would mean that the financial sustainability of the scheme funder had to be taken into account when assessing the financial sustainability of a master trust scheme. The Association of British Insurers has told us that insurance companies already hold a very significant amount of capital under the European regulatory framework for insurance, solvency II. In our view it would not be reasonable, nor is it necessary, for insurers to be required to hold separate or additional capital on top of that to meet their new obligations as master trust providers under the Bill. We would like to hear assurances from the Government that insurers will be exempt if they already adhere to FCA and PRA regulatory and financial sustainability requirements.
Amendment 6 allows for exceptions to the requirement that a scheme funder must only carry out activities directly relating to the master trust scheme for which it is a scheme funder. Amendment 7 makes provision for the Secretary of State to define “restricted activities” by regulation, including a list of specific activities restricted to minimise the risk of loss by master trust scheme funders. Through these amendments, we acknowledge that there may be circumstances in which the scheme funder requirements in the bill should not apply. The amendments state that the requirements need not apply to firms whose activities are already restricted by virtue of existing regulation.
The ABI has said that, in particular, the Prudential Regulation Authority rules mean that insurance activities of the scheme funder that are not directly related to the master trust scheme are transparent and do not threaten the solvency or sustainability of the master trust. The ABI says:
“This is a sensible and pragmatic approach”.
It would be useful to understand what additional requirements will need to be met for firms to be exempt from the scheme funder requirements. It would also be helpful to gain an assurance that the Government are committed to working with the industry throughout the development and consultation process for the regulations.
Amendments 8 and 9 provide the Pensions Regulator with an alternative to stopping payments to the schemes under section 5(b) of a pause order. Amendment 9 is consequential on amendment 8. The Bill creates a new power enabling the Pensions Regulator to make a pause order requiring certain activities to be paused once a trust has experienced a triggering event. That includes accepting new members, making payments, accepting contributions and discharging benefits. The TUC is concerned about the impact of a pause order on a member’s savings because there are no mechanisms in place to allow ongoing contributions to be collected and held on behalf of a saver. We contend that it is unacceptable for a member to be penalised, and in effect to lose wages in the form of employer contributions, because of events out of their control. The Society of Pension Professionals has said that it will be necessary to ensure that the period of effect of a pause order cannot start before the trustees actually receive notification of the pause order. That would mean that any contravention could occur only after the trustees are were receipt of the order. Without this, they argue the trustees could be in breach of a pause order, through no fault of their own, if a direction is not complied with during the period between the date on which the regulator makes the order and the date on which the regulator notifies the trustees of it—for example, if new members joined the scheme in that period contrary to a direction under clause 32(5)(a).
The Government should clarify whether they intend to take action to protect savers now, as we are disappointed that our amendments were defeated at earlier stages. I look forward to hearing the Minister respond. We have sought to work constructively with the Government to enhance the Bill, which we broadly welcome. We affirm our position of wishing to work with the Government where we can to create an environment in which workers can have faith and trust in pension savings.
We should all desire to develop a landscape in which pension saving is encouraged, allowing us to ensure that all our pensioners—from both their own provision and the state pension—have dignity and security in retirement. The Bill helps us along that road, as far as the regulation of master trusts is concerned. There is more to do to enhance auto-enrolment, and I look forward to working with the Government to take steps to include those who are currently excluded from pension savings, particularly the self-employed and many part time workers, especially women.
In closing, although I welcome the Bill, I reflect on the fact that it was necessary for me to put down a prayer last night on frozen pensions after the Government again brought forward a statutory instrument to freeze the pensions of hundreds of thousands of British pensioners who are being denied their full rights. In pushing the measure through, the Government have denied Members of this House the right to debate the matter. I encourage all hon. and right hon. Members to sign early-day motion 1097. I hope that if we can, as I believe we can, demonstrate broad cross-party support against this measure, the Government will have the grace to bring forward a debate on this matter before recess. This early-day motion has already been signed by Members from six parties, including the Government party. I encourage them to listen to us on this matter, as part of proceedings on the Bill.
I thank the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), from Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, and the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), for their amendments. I hope that everyone who has followed the debate in this House and in Committee will agree that the Government’s attitude has not simply been to oppose all amendments for the sake of it. I give hon. Members my word that everything has been considered. It is the Government’s job to consider the lobbying from the sorts of organisations that the hon. Member for Stockton North mentioned. I have met representatives of most of them, as I am sure the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber has done. It is the Government’s job to weigh up everything and make a decision.
I am really quite disappointed by the fact that today, we are almost exclusively revisiting the amendments we debated in Committee. My arguments remain unchanged, although that does not mean that I am going to sit down and ignore the contributions of the previous speakers.
I do not think that that would be the correct thing to do. I intend to go through the amendments in detail and answer some of the questions that have been asked in good faith; I will try to answer them in the same spirit.
New clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Stockton North, is about the scheme funder of last resort. It has been discussed in the other place and extensively in Committee, and my officials and I have given it a lot of consideration. It would principally require the Secretary of State to establish a funder of last resort to meet the costs associated with the transfer of members out of a master trust should a triggering event occur. On the surface, the argument seems compelling. I met Baroness Drake and others in the other House before the Bill came to this House. I considered the proposal with a very open mind, and I thought that it was the most significant of all the points that were made. I want to place on record the fact that the contributions from noble Lords, across parties, have been very useful. I pay tribute to Baroness Drake, with whom I have discussed this several times. There are honourable disagreements, however, in which neither position is ridiculous. In the end, Government have to decide. That is why I cannot give the Opposition the comfort for which they ask.
The whole purpose of the regime introduced by the Bill is to mitigate the very risk about which the hon. Member for Stockton North is concerned. He is right to be concerned about it. Various clichés have been used at various points in proceedings on the Bill, usually involving nuts, sledgehammers and other such things. I would prefer to say that it is a question of being proportionate, or not being disproportionate. I think that that sums it up.
Before a master trust is authorised, the Pensions Regulator has to be convinced it has sufficient funds to meet the cost of a triggering event. Remember, Mr Deputy Speaker—I am sure you do, as you remember everything—that this does not involve pensioners’ money, but the scheme or organisation running the fund. The Pensions Regulator must ensure that the organisers of the trust have sufficient funds to meet the cost of a triggering event. Should it fail, it will have the money to transfer out to another scheme. The regulator will monitor the situation on an ongoing basis to ensure the funds remain available.
Currently, the market is responding well to deal with existing master trusts that wish to exit before authorisation. The threat of the regulation in the Bill is making smaller master trusts consider whether they wish to part of this new regulated world. Several master trusts have already left the market in an orderly fashion. The regulator is confident that currently there are none that could not afford to transfer out members. That is very important and I hope the hon. Member for Stockton North will take that into consideration when deciding whether to press the new clause to a Division.
We are working with the regulator on non-legislative measures to address concerns about potential liabilities of trustees and receiving schemes that might arise if the record of a master trust in wind-up is poor. Hon. Members should be aware that we have a system of regulation precisely to ensure this does not happen. I view in a different way a survey I believe the hon. Gentleman mentioned in Committee from Pension Professional, which found that 50% of those surveyed did not want a scheme of last resort, as opposed to 31% who said they did. He mentioned Standard Life’s view. I accept that it is the view of industry players that they would much rather the Government step in and deal with it—that is natural; if I were in their position I would too—but we have spoken to institutions and people involved in auto-enrolment, master trusts and so on, and my clear impression is that plenty of players would bite their hand off for any schemes they could get hold of. From their point of view, taking on members involves very little cost because they are already set up and running the schemes. They seem desperate to take on these schemes.
The Minister is taking great comfort from existing measures, but there is still no 100% guarantee that there will be somebody to pick up the costs in the event of a trust failure. We could see a new trust go through the authorisation process but still fail through bad management, mismanagement, fraud or whatever. Who will pick up the pieces in that situation?
We have to deal with the reality of the situation; that is not happening. Yes, anything could happen. We all know in life that things happen. Parliament deals with things that happen that no one expects. As the Minister with responsibility for pensions, I am convinced that in the view of the industry, the regulator and the types of institutions that would willingly take on failing master trusts, there is no need for the Secretary of State to have in his desk-drawer armoury the money or the weapons to deal with it. This is a problem that really does not exist.
The hon. Gentleman says it is all left to chance. Well, it is not left to chance. We have a finite number of master trusts that exist now thanks to the support of the Government and the Opposition for the Bill, which I hope will be enacted as quickly as possible— I think everybody wants that—so it is a finite problem. I am not an accountant, but it is not a contingent liability that could happen in years to come. Hopefully, within two years a clear regulatory system will be in place and the regulator has made very clear what trusts exist. We have taken quite a lot of care to ensure that this will not happen. I feel that the measures suggested in the new clause are totally disproportionate to the problem. For those reasons, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it, although I do not believe he will. [Interruption.] I am pleased to see that at least I have served to amuse Opposition Front Benchers.
New clauses 2, 3 and 4 stand in the name of the hon. Member for Stockton North and relate to member engagement. In Committee, in earlier debates and in conversations both on and off the record and in general to everyone who is concerned, I have made it clear, as hon. Members would expect me to do, that member engagement is important and that members should be encouraged to develop a strong sense of ownership in their pension savings. However, I remain of the view that the new clauses are unnecessary. I know that the hon. Gentleman is expecting me to say that, because we have discussed these points before.
My main rebuttal would be to remind the hon. Gentleman that the majority of master trusts are subject to the rules on trustees and the regulations of governance. Those regulations require that the schemes must have at least three trustees, and the majority have to be independent to provide services to the scheme. I agree that there must be an open and transparent appointment process for recruiting independent trustees, but current arrangements ensure that members have access to appropriate information to make decisions about their pension scheme. Those include a mandatory annual benefit statement; for most members, a statutory money purchase illustration, which gives them a projection of their pension in retirement. The hon. Gentleman says it should not be done on request, but it is available—that includes the trustees’ annual report, the chair’s statement and the statement of investment principles. The Pensions Regulator publishes guidance for trustees on communicating effectively and transparently with members.
I remind Members that all trustees have fiduciary duties and other legal requirements. Some master trusts are developing innovative ways of engaging with their members without the need for over-prescriptive statutory requirements, many of which—I say this respectfully—are of a different era, including holding general meetings that mean that people are expected to travel all over the country and everything like that.
I wish to discuss quickly the points made about the auto-enrolment review. In summary, the purpose of the review is precisely to discuss the points raised by the hon. Member for Stockton North. We are looking extensively at including self-employed people and people on lower incomes. He mentioned carers, so I should point out that all carers who are employed are now treated exactly the same as other people who are employed. If they fit the criteria, they will not be. I would not exclude looking at everything else, but the review is far broader than is required under the law.
The hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber tabled new clause 6, and wants to introduce a power to regulate so that exit charges can be capped. As I have said, the power already exists, because we intend to use schedule 18 to the Pensions Act 2014, as amended by clause 41 of the Bill, alongside existing powers, to make regulations to cap or ban early exit charges in occupational schemes, including master trusts. Existing members of occupational schemes who are eligible for pension freedoms will have charges capped at a maximum of 1%. It is not fair to exclude all charges, because there are costs involved in exit.
New clauses 7, 8 and 9, which were introduced as eloquently as ever by the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, are designed to make changes to the provisions in the Pension Act 2014 that address the issue of employer debt in defined-benefit schemes. As he said, I have met representatives of the plumbers UK scheme, stakeholders generally, employers and employees. Let me make it clear that the issues are raised in the Green Paper on security and sustainability in our defined benefit pension schemes, and there is a roundtable of representatives from the relevant schemes precisely to look at what changes to legislation might be needed.
It is a complex and technical problem, but there is no perfect solution, because each involves one of three parties taking responsibility for the debt: working members, retired ones and the PPS. Each has its own problems, but I give the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber my word on this, and I congratulate him and his party colleagues on the work they have done on this issue. There is no need for fears; we will make progress. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will therefore not press the new clauses.
We dealt in Committee with the minimum requirement for annual reporting on administration and so forth, but we shall have to agree to disagree on this. We are committed to making regulations requiring information on charges and transactions costs to be provided to Members and to be published in the course of this Parliament. We will consult this year on the publication and disclosure of such information to members. We are consulting only on how rather than if we will require disclosure. I read the Financial Conduct Authority’s asset management markets study, and I sometimes think that the hon. Member for Stockton North and I are probably the only people who have read it in full detail. I fully commend it, as I have told the FCA, and we fully intend to take action on this matter. In short, the Government already possess the necessary primary powers and are well on the way to achieving the hon. Gentleman’s stated purpose, so I urge him to withdraw the amendment.
Amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber deal with scheme funder requirements. I listened carefully to what he said. He adds to the requirement in clause 8 for the master trust scheme to have sufficient financial resources for the scheme funder, but that is not required because the regulator’s assessment already has to take into account matters to be specified in regulations, which will include insolvency risk, the enforceability of any funding commitment and whether the scheme funder is subject to any prudential capital requirements. I do not believe that we need to expand the range of activities beyond that. Amendments 6 and 7 would expand the range of activities that a scheme funder can undertake by allowing it to carry out any activities apart from those that are restricted. The Government amendments tabled in Committee mean that the scheme funder is no longer restricted solely to activities relating to the master trust. I remind the hon. Gentleman—he has mentioned the Association of British Insurers—that the ABI
“welcome the cross-party consensus of the need to address the issue and the common-sense approach the Government has taken to reflect its concerns”.
In short, these amendments are not needed, so I very much urge the hon. Gentleman not to press them.
Amendment 2 would require the trustees to notify scheme members that a triggering event has occurred and of other information to be set out in regulations. I am sure you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, that a triggering event is a change in circumstances that poses a risk to the scheme. I accept the importance of informing members well ahead of anything that directly impacts on them. Trustees can inform members at the point of the triggering event, if they judge that this is appropriate. The Bill already requires that if the scheme does proceed to wind up, it must inform members. I feel that the amendment is well-meaning but inappropriate. It could be costly and it could frighten members for no reason, because the system of requiring them to be informed later in the process is already in place. Once again, I ask the hon. Member for Stockton North not to the amendment.
I do the same with respect to pause orders, which were mentioned by both the hon. Member press, for Stockton North and for Ross, Skye and Lochaber—it seems that I have mastered the name of that constituency by Report, which goes beyond the call of duty. The amendments would require the contributions that cannot be paid into a master trust in the interim period to be held by the employer in some sort of special account. Here I am talking about the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber—and I said that in one sentence.
Amendment 4 tabled by the hon. Member for Stockton North removes the provision to halt payments to members from a scheme during a pause order. Let me make it clear that the Government’s position is that employees should retain the contributions made during a period, and receive a refund from their employer if those contributions have already been deducted but cannot be paid over to the scheme. We have been clear and everyone agrees that this is a rare and time-limited situation, which has a low risk of occurring, yet quite a big burden would go with it.
I thank you for that clarification. No, I do not thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I thank the hon. Member for Stockton North. The trustees can decide—they have to decide—when they wish to notify members of the pause order; it is not like it does not exist. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Pensions Regulator can direct the trustees to notify the members at any time if they deem it necessary. That is a really important point. The power is already there; it is not as if it is going away.
With all that said, I hope that I have considered the amendments carefully. I hope that I have made effective arguments and that the hon. Member for Stockton North will not press his amendments.
I am satisfied that the Bill has been improved by amendments made in Committee—largely, I would like to say, in response to Opposition arguments. Once the Bill becomes an Act, I believe it will provide effective protection for the millions now saving in master trusts, largely as a result of the success of automatic enrolment. I hope that this House will be content to leave it unamended today.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House proceeded to a Division.
It is clear that the advice from the police to the Director of Security is still that the Chamber should remain in lockdown. As most colleagues will realise, a number of right hon. and hon. Members are in other parts of the estate or are off the estate and, for obvious reasons, are unable to be present for business. There have been conversations through the usual channels. I hope the House would agree that, in the current circumstances, it would not be right to continue with today’s business.
Discussions between the usual channels will take place to ensure that the business that has been interrupted can be rescheduled for another mutually convenient date. Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you will want to keep the House, although we remain locked down, informed of any news that comes through from the security authorities.
In view of what I sense to be the mood of the House and the situation in which we find ourselves. I will now move the adjournment.
Resolved, That this House do now adjourn.— (Mr Lidington.)
[The following remarks were made for the information of the House during its suspension.]
Colleagues will have appreciated that events have been moving rapidly, and I want to emphasise that the knowledge I have that is definite is so far very limited. What I am able to say to the House is that there has been a serious incident within the Estate. It seems that a police officer has been stabbed and that the alleged assailant was shot by armed police, and an air ambulance is currently attending the scene to remove the casualties. There are also reports of further violent incidents in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster, but I hope that colleagues on both sides of the House will appreciate that it would be wrong of me to go into further details until we have confirmation from the police and the House security authorities about what is going on.
I shall endeavour to do the very best I can, both at the Dispatch Box and by communicating with my opposite numbers in other political parties, to ensure that Members are kept aware of what is happening, but at the moment the very clear advice from the police and the director of security in the House is that we should remain under suspension and that the Chamber should remain in lockdown until we receive advice that it is safe to go back to normal procedures.
May I just thank you for that, Mr Deputy Speaker, and thank the Leader of the House for his statement? Our thoughts and prayers are with the police officer. I thank the police, all the security services and all the staff for looking after us so well.