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House of Commons Hansard
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Public Bill Committees
01 February 2018

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [ Lords ] (First sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Andrew Rosindell, † Graham Stringer

† Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

† Black, Mhairi (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

† Burghart, Alex (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)

Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)

† Dromey, Jack (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)

† Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab)

† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

† Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

† Latham, Mrs Pauline (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)

† Mackinlay, Craig (South Thanet) (Con)

† Merriman, Huw (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

† Milling, Amanda (Cannock Chase) (Con)

† Opperman, Guy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)

† Reeves, Ellie (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)

Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

Jyoti Chandola, Gail Bartlett, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 1 February 2018

(Morning)

[Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords]

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Good morning. Before we begin line-by-line consideration, I have a few preliminary housekeeping announcements. Will Members please switch all electronic devices to silent? I notice some tea and coffee on the tables. I would be grateful if Members could please remove them and not bring them into the room. I will first call the Minister to move the programme motion agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee.

Ordered,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 11.30 am on Thursday 1 February) meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Thursday 1 February;

(b) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 6 February;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clause 1; Schedules 1 and 2; Clauses 2 to 20; Schedule 3; Clauses 21 to 24; Schedules 4 and 5; Clauses 25 to 31; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 6 February.—(Guy Opperman.)

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Guy Opperman.)

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Mr Speaker has asked that we explain the procedure in more detail than used to be the case before we start our main proceedings.

We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today is available in the room and on the Bill website. It shows how the selected amendments have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same or a similar issue. The Member who has put their name to the lead amendment in a group is called first. Other Members are then free to catch my eye to speak on all or any of the amendments in the group. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate.

At the end of the debate on a group of amendments, I shall call the Member who moved the lead amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to withdraw the amendment or seek a decision. If any Member wishes to press any amendment or new clause in a group to a vote, they need to let me know. I shall work on the assumption that the Minister wishes to reach a decision on all Government amendments when we reach them.

Please note that decisions on amendments take place not in the order they are debated, but in the order they appear on the amendment paper. In other words, debate occurs according to the selection and grouping list; decisions are taken when we come to the clause that the amendment affects. Decisions on adding new clauses or schedules are taken towards the end of proceedings, but may be discussed earlier if grouped with other amendments.

I shall use my discretion to decide whether to allow separate stand part debates on individual clauses and schedules following the debates on relevant amendments. I hope that explanation is helpful to members of the Committee.

Clause 1

The single financial guidance body

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I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 2, line 6, at end insert ‘and the devolved authorities.’

This amendment, together with amendment 18, will enable transfer schemes under Schedule 2 to transfer staff, property, rights and liabilities from the consumer financial education body to the devolved authorities. This may be necessary in view of the fact that the devolved authorities will be responsible for the provision of debt advice in their areas (see clause 15).

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Government amendment 18.

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It is a pleasure to work under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and I welcome all colleagues to the Committee. I am grateful to those Members of the House of Lords who contributed to the Bill—it started in the other place—expanding and improving it in a significant and important way.

The Bill builds on a Government commitment to ensure that members of the public can access good-quality, free-to-clients and impartial financial guidance and debt advice. Those services are currently provided by a number of different organisations, including financial services firms, utilities and those in the charity sector. Government-sponsored pensions guidance, money guidance and debt advice is provided by the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and the Department for Work and Pensions under the Pension Wise banner.

There have been a multitude of reviews, Select Committee assessments, consultations and calls for evidence since 2015, by which we reached the state in 2017 when the Bill was introduced in this Parliament. Consequently, clause 1 establishes a new non-departmental public body, to be referred to in legislation as the single financial guidance body. The clause introduces schedule 1, which provides details of the proposed governance and accountability of the new body. The provisions within the schedule deal with, for example, the appointment of the chair, non-executive members, executive members and staff, the delegation of duties within the body, the constitution of the committees, and the statutory reporting and accounting procedures.

Clause 1 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to replace the phrase “single financial guidance body” in legislation with the actual name of the body—the body will be named nearer to the time it becomes operational. The regulations that name the body will be created through a statutory instrument under the negative procedure, which is subject to annulment by either House of Parliament.

Clause 1 dissolves the consumer financial education body now known as the Money Advice Service. Schedule 2 allows the transfer of staff, property, rights and liabilities from the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise—in effect from the Secretary of State to the new body. The schedule allows similar transfers from the Money Advice Service to the new body. I have met all three organisations and discussed the proposed merger with them. I can assure the House that all three are keen to merge, which is rare in Government mergers and should be applauded.

Amendments 1 and 18 are technical in nature and extend the power to make transfer schemes under schedule 2 to the devolved authority. Schedule 2 already allows the Secretary of State to transfer staff, property, rights and liabilities from the Money Advice Service to the new single financial guidance body. This is required to ensure continuity of provision, including on contracts held, and avoid disruption to services in the creation of the body. The devolved authorities will have responsibility for the provision of debt advice in their areas once the new body is established. Devolved authorities have been consulted on this and are very much in agreement. Amendment 1 therefore helps to avoid similar disruption to debt advice provision in the devolved authorities when the new body is established.

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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. Let me start by paying tribute to the three organisations that are being merged into one—the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise—for the work they have done over many years. The Minister is right that all three agree about the good sense of bringing them together into one body. Why? Because all three know from experience, and have advocated, that high-quality advice—independent, trustworthy and there when it is needed—is of the highest importance, particularly in circumstances of redundancy, death or divorce, when the financial consequences for the citizen can be very serious.

I will give some examples. In Port Talbot, the staff supervisor told Michelle Cracknell, the chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service, that he was distraught that he had been badly advised on pensions and that the 20 others on his shift had followed his lead. He burst into tears when he said, “It’s not just the mistake that I’ve made; it’s the mistake that others have made following my example.” I remember a victim of domestic violence in my constituency saying, “I borrow to pay the debt, because I borrow to pay the debt, because I borrow to pay the debt.” That is the downward spiral into which citizens all too often fall at a time of crisis in their lives. A Kingstanding dustman said to me, “I’m an agency worker on a zero-hours contract and I would love to buy a house, because my wife is pregnant and we’re paying a fortune in rent.” He went on to say, “It’s not just that: because I’m on a zero-hours contract, I can’t plan. I keep getting into debt. I’ve had bad advice.”—he used stronger words than those—“Where do I turn?”

That is why we made it clear on Second Reading that this is a welcome Bill and a strong step in the right direction, and it has been strengthened by constructive debate in the other place. Our intention is to make a good Bill better still and to inject a sense of urgency into some of its proposals, because the dignity and financial wellbeing of our citizens, in opportunity or adversity, is of the highest importance.

We agree to the concept of the new organisation and support the direction of travel. We will seek to amend the Bill in certain key areas in order to strengthen it further, so that it delivers, particularly for those in desperate need and in circumstances in which there are still too many rogues taking advantage of the vulnerable. There is a joint determination across the House to ensure that nothing but the best is provided in the future for the British people. I am talking about high-quality advice that they can count on in all circumstances.

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I echo much of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington has just said. I am very grateful, on a Thursday morning, that the Bill is not contentious—I do not know about anyone else here, but I am not in the mood for arguing. We have proper concerns about only three areas of the Bill. The first relates to how young people are involved and educated through it. The second question is whether we can clear up some of the difficulties between guidance and advice. The third and most important issue is dealing with clause 5, because what we have from the Government now is wholly inadequate. With that said, I look forward to having genuine discussions in Committee.

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I am grateful to colleagues for their comments, which I endorse. I look forward to responding to the specific points. I accept and anticipate that there will be a legitimate discussion as to the appropriate way forward in respect of default pensions guidance, on which I know both Opposition Front Benchers wish to address the Committee. I thank them for their comments.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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We now come to amendment 23 to schedule 1, with which we will consider the question that schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

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Are we not moving to clause 2?

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No, it is your amendment 23, to schedule 1, in relation to the independence of the single financial guidance body.

Schedule 1

The single financial guidance body

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I beg to move amendment 23, in schedule 1, page 27, line 9, at end insert—

“(3) The Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that the single financial guidance body is as independent from Government as reasonably possible in determining its activities.”

This amendment will ensure that the single financial guidance body has the autonomy to fulfil its functions.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

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My apologies, Mr Stringer, for getting things in the wrong order—having been dealing this week with the issue of Carillion, the problems at Jaguar Land Rover, and GKN, I have to say that it has been a rather hectic few days.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the single financial guidance body has the autonomy to fulfil its functions. The new body will be a publicly funded, non-departmental public body, answerable to the Secretary of State. As such, it is imperative that it have the correct amount of autonomy from Government to ensure that it can fulfil all its functions effectively. The new body will be tasked with carrying out a number of very important and critical functions, including starting a new era of enhanced financial guidance and education. Those will best be fulfilled by an independent, autonomous body, free from Government interference. It should be free to make decisions that let it do the job for which Parliament has voted. It should not be subject to the whims of whichever Government are in power, and the political winds those whims can bring. It should be free, as is often said, to speak truth unto power, and all too often the uncomfortable needs to be said and done. The new body should not feel constrained in so doing.

The new body’s important functions include providing guidance to those who are making important financial decisions. The take-up of the services offered by Pension Wise, for instance, is extremely low. Of the 772,000 people who transferred some or all of their pension in 2017, only 66,000 had an appointment with Pension Wise, and an FCA survey found that only one in eight 55 to 64-year-olds who planned to retire in the next two years and who have a defined-contribution pension had used the Pension Wise service in a 12-month period.

The intention of all parties in the House is to have a new and effective organisation that ensures that in future we do not have that kind of problem of take-up by the citizen. We want to ensure that it is widely known that Pension Wise exists; that Pension Wise is vigorously advertising its purpose and function; and that, because we insist on independent advice being given, it is truly independent from Government.

I will just make one final point, which arises out of constructive discussions with the Minister. I am the first to recognise that there needs to be oversight and accountability. There must be oversight by, and accountability to, Parliament. Crucially, however, it would be inappropriate for the Government to interfere in the day-to-day conduct of the new organisation. It should be free to do its job and to do its job well, and therefore I hope that the Government will give the necessary assurances about it.

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Has my hon. Friend read Peter Wyman’s recent independent report on the debt advice landscape? He advocates that there should be somebody in charge of the whole debt landscape—almost a debt Tsar. That seems to be a really good idea, to maintain the independence of the debt landscape. Does my hon. Friend agree?

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My hon. Friend, who is part of an honourable tradition of giving high-quality advice to people in times of need, particularly through citizens advice bureaux, is absolutely right. The evidence is damning; the need is apparent. It is now a question of how best that need is met. The new body is a step in the right direction, but it should not be the last word; it is the first “next step,” but it is an important step in the right direction.

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I am grateful to colleagues for their comments. The Bill sets out absolutely clearly that the single financial guidance body will be at arm’s length from Government. That distance from Government means that the day-to-day decisions the new body makes will be independent, as they will be removed from Ministers and civil servants. Nevertheless, there is a sponsoring Minister, who remains answerable to Parliament for the activities of the new body, its effectiveness and its efficiency, including any failures, especially in the case of a body that receives public funds. It is important that there is a balance—I think all of us recognise that—between enabling the Department to fulfil its responsibilities to Parliament and to be accountable, and giving the new body the desired degree of independence.

Conferring functions on the new body involves a recognition that operational independence from Ministers in carrying out its functions is appropriate, and the new body will support delivery of the objectives of both the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions, to create a more effective system of publicly funded financial guidance and to give savers the confidence to save and access money in the future. The new body’s activities will be funded by a levy on the financial services industry and on pension schemes.

On Second Reading the hon. Member for Makerfield addressed one of the criticisms levelled at the Money Advice Service. All of us support what MAS is trying to do, its broad objective and the efforts it is making. However, one of the strong criticisms of it in its early years, which came from both the independent Farnish review and the Treasury Committee, which obviously operates on a cross-party basis, was that MAS lacked accountability and that the activities it delivered, and the money it was spending, could not be held to account by Parliament and the respective Minister.

The Farnish review, which is one of the reasons we are creating this body in the way we are, suggested that the Money Advice Service accountability regime was weak, and recommended that it be strengthened. The Treasury Committee expressed concerns that the Money Advice Service had moved its service away from its intended focus. I am certain that the hon. Member for Makerfield will be directing it to have a “laser-like focus”—the expression she used on Second Reading—on commissioning services, towards direct delivery and building up its brand name.

Lord knows, all Governments like to be held to account by Oppositions, and quite rightly too, but let us imagine that the single financial guidance body chose to do something that any Member of the Opposition or of the Government felt was inappropriate. The inability to hold that body to account and to hold a Minister to account would not be something the House would want. In the circumstances, it is appropriate that the responsible Minister is able to make representations, but it is very much a partnership system that needs to work well between the body and the Government, and there must be clarity about expectations and the approaches to accountability.

The correct way forward is to have a framework document setting out that particular method of working. That framework document approach, setting out the partnership so that there is due accountability to Parliament, while at the same time allowing the body to get on with the job that we all agree it should be doing, is well established and has been under successive Governments. In the circumstances, I believe that placing the requirement in legislation, as set out in amendment 23, is both unnecessary and undesirable, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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The Minister has said some helpful things, and he is absolutely right that it is about getting the right balance between accountability and operational independence. The proposal for a framework document is welcome. I simply ask that there is consultation on the nature of that framework document, including with stakeholders, at the appropriate stage.

On the establishment of the new body, the governance of it and precisely how that will be structured, we have heard what has been said thus far, but it will be important that we have high-quality and independent individuals engaged in the governance, including on a day-to-day basis.

On the basis of what I and the Minister have said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2

Transfer schemes under section 1

Amendment made: 18, in schedule 2, page 32, line 3, at end insert “and the devolved authorities.”—(Guy Opperman.)

See explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2

Objectives

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I beg to move amendment 37, in clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out from “accordingly” to end of line 20 and insert—

“(da) to ensure the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances, including but not exclusively—

(i) those who suffer long-term sickness or disability,

(ii) carers,

(iii) those on low incomes, and

(iv) recipients of benefits,

are met and that resources are allocated in such a way as to allow specially trained advisers

and guidance to be made available to them.”

This amendment would require that specially trained advisers and guidance are made available to people in vulnerable circumstances and would provide an indicative list of what vulnerable circumstances might include.

The amendment came about because we were chuffed, when reading the Bill, to see that there was a mention of vulnerable people, especially given the nature of pensions and how much is at stake with them, but to be honest we felt that the wording was a little weak. I would like the wording tightened up to ensure that it is clear and means what I think it does. That is why we have suggested what we consider “vulnerable people” to mean, and it will be good to see whether the Government are happy to accept that.

We want to make sure that the new body is as accessible as possible for all people, regardless of their circumstances. Specially trained advisers and resources should make up part of that new body, so that people can have confidence and the ability to make the right decisions. I do not think that the amendment is that contentious; it just tidies up the Government’s wording.

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I rise to support the proposition. We will deal with the issues of vulnerability and disability later in the Bill, but although it is true that not everyone who needs urgent and independent advice is necessarily in circumstances of vulnerability, the nature of the world of work and of the economy means that a lot of people’s backs are against the wall, especially after the high-profile collapses of late. We should make explicit what is implicit: the new body should proceed in the right way. I hope the Minister will give the assurance that everyone who turns to it will receive high-quality independent advice. A specific focus on support for the vulnerable is a legitimate objective.

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I am keen to give assurance on that specific point. If the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South will allow me, I will walk her through how we got to the situation where the Government chose to amend the Bill to add in the vulnerable circumstances clause that is the basis for her amendment. The Government take the view that the amendment is not necessary in the circumstances, and I will explain why.

The body’s activity towards the people who are most in need and in vulnerable circumstances has been the priority of all parties since the creation of the Bill. Vulnerable circumstances were not originally spelt out, but they were certainly spelt out on Second Reading in the House of Lords. There was extensive debate in the House of Lords on a cross-party basis with representations by Baroness Finlay, Baroness Coussins, Baroness Hollins and the Labour Lord, Lord McKenzie, about the need for clarity on access to financial guidance and awareness of financial services for people who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances.

The Government decided in the other place to state explicitly in clause 2(1)(d) that the body’s objectives include the need to support people in “vulnerable circumstances” when exercising its functions. An amendment was introduced to strengthen the objectives to ensure that the body’s

“information, guidance and advice is available to those most in need…bearing in mind in particular the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances”.

The Government’s amendment has created a statutory framework that will give clear direction to the new body to support people in those circumstances. That means that the body will be required to focus its efforts and resources on that area, and will look at the best ways to provide guidance to vulnerable people in different places.

A general principle of the Bill, which I will expand on in relation to this and other points, is that there is a danger of being overly prescriptive to a body that one is setting up with the specific purpose that it has the latitude to exercise the appropriate commissioning and employment of charities and organisations in particular places. Asking the body to have a generality of specially trained advisers and guidance risks being too prescriptive in the Bill. We want to ensure that the body has the latitude to take advantage of its expertise to find the best interventions and the best channels to address the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances now and in the future. That is not to say that the body itself may not choose to do exactly what the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South has fairly set out, but that is for the body to do under the circumstances that it sees fit.

The risk outlined on Second Reading—I can see that I will have to refer to the hon. Member for Makerfield on several occasions—was the danger of duplication. Whether or not one feels that the Government or individual local authorities are providing appropriate services, other services are being provided, whether that is universal support or the visiting service, that support claimants with a face-to-face service and by offering to manage their claims. There is a duplication risk, which was the specific problem of the Money Advice Service in the past.

The general point is that we believe that it is wrong to be too prescriptive and to predefine a whole series of obligations, functions and capabilities of this organisation. That does not mean that we will not have a discussion going forward, nor that the body will not address these specific points, but I do not want to predefine and subdivide every single part. It should be left to the body to make those decisions as it goes forward. That does not in any way diminish the need for these things to be addressed, but I would not want that in the Bill. It is for the body, when it is fully formed, to address those points. In the circumstances, I invite the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South to withdraw the amendment, having taken due note of the assurances that I have given.

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I appreciate what the Minister says, but it is strange to say that the amendment is too prescriptive after talking about how important it is that the Bill has cross-party support and saying that it is about trying to bring about genuine change. I do not see what is contentious about fleshing out what vulnerable people means. The only downside that I can see to having the amendment in the Bill is the possibility of helping too many people. I appreciate that the Minister says that it is up to the body to decide, but that is where we will have to disagree, because I think that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks anymore, so I would not be comfortable withdrawing the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 1

1 February 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 1
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

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I beg to move amendment 24, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

“(4) In the case of members of the public who are self-employed “information, guidance and advice” also includes information and advice on business-related debt, in addition to personal debt.”

This amendment would extend the single financial guidance body’s remit to advise the self-employed on business finances and debts.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 25, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

“(4) In the case of members of the public who are self-employed—

(a) “financial matters” also includes information and advice on business-related debt, in addition to personal debt”, and

(b) “financial affairs” includes business-related financial affairs, in addition to personal financial affairs.”

This amendment would extend the single financial guidance body’s remit to advise the self-employed on business finances and debts.

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Although self-employed people will be able to access the help of the new body for their personal finances, they will not be able to use it for their business finances. We have listened very carefully to the voice of the self-employed—on one hand organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, and on the other hand people I have spoken to in my own constituency, including taxi drivers and construction workers who are self-employed and, indeed, an individual who ran a fruit and veg shop in Erdington High Street and got into financial difficulties.

I have seen how self-employed people badly need advice and guidance, and there is all too often an overlap between their personal advice and guidance and that for the business in which they are engaged. That is why we say that evidence shows that, for the self-employed, the line between personal and business finances is usually blurred and can be very difficult to manage, particularly for those just setting out as self-employed people. The number of self-employed people is higher than ever before in our economy, so they need to be able to rely on the new body for advice and guidance when they need it.

Figures released last year suggest that the number of self-employed workers in the United Kingdom rose by 23%—from 3.8 million to 4.7 million—between 2007 and 2017. That represents a shift in the nature of the world of work and the way the British economy is working. Self-employed people now represent about 15% of the workforce, and 91% of businesses say they hire contractors. The majority of self-employed people are sole traders, and there is no legal distinction between them as individuals and as businesses. There were 3.4 million sole traders in 2017. The biggest increase in self-employed people was among women.

Although self-employment is a positive choice for most, there is a real problem with the conscription of some into reluctant self-employment. Either way, the average earnings of the self-employed are significantly lower than those of the employed. The figures vary—I would be the first to acknowledge that—but there has been growth in self-employment in higher-skilled, higher-paying areas, such as advertising, public administration and banking. Although some workers enjoy greater flexibility and control over their working patterns, self-employment can nevertheless have a negative impact on their access to finance.

As self-employment has increased, so has demand for advice about business-related debts. Last year, 36,421 people were helped by the business debt line run by the national charity the Money Advice Trust, which does outstanding work and gave us very good advice and guidance about the Bill. Demand for the debt line has increased from 24,000 in 2016 to 36,421. The Money Advice Trust says, and I think it is right, that it expects the rise in demand to continue.

The amendments would ensure that the SFGB provided self-employed people with information, advice and guidance about their business-related, not just their personal, debt and finances, with a focus on those who are most in need, in line with the body’s wider objectives. The amendments would apply to its debt advice and money guidance functions. As Lord Haskel said in the other place,

“the work of the SFGB should include the self-employed and micro-businesses, particularly at a time when the line between company employment and self-employment is becoming very blurred.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 July 2017; Vol. 783, c. 933.]

Personal and business finances are closely intertwined for many self-employed people. Some 48% of self-employed people use a only personal current account for their business, and a further 17% use both a personal and a business account, according to the Financial Conduct Authority’s “Financial Lives” survey in 2017. The Money Advice Trust report, “The cost of doing business”, which is based on extended interviews with business debt line clients, found that almost seven in 10 of those who had taken out a personal loan were using it to prop up their business. Research by the University of Bristol’s personal finance research centre identified two key areas of overlap between business and personal finances: first, general living expenses, especially for those who live on their business premises; and, secondly, the use of personal credit to manage cash flow where necessary. Given the intertwining of business and personal finances for many self-employed people, if the SFGB does not offer information, advice and guidance on both, it will not be able to provide that growing section of the population with the support it needs.

I very much hope that the Minister will respond constructively to what we are saying and look at what might happen if the Government choose not to amend the Bill. I reserve my right to come back on that after hearing the Minister’s response.

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I want to make a short contribution about how the finances of the self-employed are muddied with their personal finances. I had a meeting recently with Amigo Loans, a guarantor loan provider. It said that an increasing part of its business is loaning to people in a personal capacity, although they know it is for business purposes. Is that a business debt or a personal one? The fact that it does not look at the business plan might make it a personal debt, although I do think it ought to be looking at the business plan. Is it a personal debt or a business debt for the guarantor who guarantees the debt? In a lot of cases, it is fairly unclear where the line lies. To have a firm demarcation line where no business debts are dealt with is probably detrimental.

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I am grateful to colleagues for making this point, and I recognise that it is not a simple issue. To pretend that the dividing line is absolutely precise and clear would be naive and wrong. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and I discussed this issue yesterday. I will go away and consider the matter prior to Report and Third Reading. However, today I will oppose the amendment and I shall try to explain why. I will also explain why the Money Advice Service does not seek the change and answer some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Makerfield.

The Money Advice Service provides a range of information and guidance, via webchat, telephone and online, specifically for the self-employed. That includes information and guidance on matters such as tax, national insurance, personal and business insurance, and guidance on the steps to consider when starting a new business. It also signposts to other free, impartial and expert services for self-employed people in respect of their business, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s business support helpline, the Money Advice Trust, which is funded and supported by the Government, and the comprehensive information on gov.uk.

Recognising the complex nature of a self-employed person’s finances, MAS also supports the provision of debt advice to self-employed people. This is a service that provides debt advice specifically for people who are self-employed. In relation to the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise, pensions guidance is offered to everyone; those services are available to all, regardless of whether someone is self-employed.

When the single financial guidance body takes over the services, I see no reason why those services would not continue. There should be ongoing provision of that degree of support. We want the new body to continue the research and work that is already done by existing organisations, identify where there are gaps in financial guidance and debt advice provision, and look for ways to fill those gaps.

Through its strategic function, the body must develop a national strategy to improve the financial capability of members of the public and their ability to manage debt. To do that, it will work with a range of industry, charity, public sector and voluntary sector organisations to develop a strategy where they work together to address this problem and others in respect of people’s financial guidance and debt advice needs.

The single financial guidance body will not operate in a vacuum. As I alluded to earlier, there is online business advice, whether provided by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or BEIS, and I would go further than that and give an example. The Start Up Loans Company helps people to get started in business. Self-evidently, it is funded by BEIS, and it works in partnership with the British Business Bank. It is a requirement of Start Up Loans Company finance partners to ensure that, as part of their service to the self-employed, they consider how someone could service any debts they have in respect of their business. They also do further signposting.

There is a risk, particularly in these circumstances and at this stage, that we may duplicate a pre-existing Government service, which the Money Advice Service and others have warned against in the past. I have asked what the Money Advice Service’s view is. I stress that I do not have a direct quote, but I have been told that its broad interpretation of the amendment is that it is unnecessary at this stage, as MAS already signposts and funds initiatives, and its commissioning strategy already identifies the self-employed as a priority. It does not favour the amendment, especially if it would mean straying into supporting businesses rather than lone traders.

Let me finish with two points. A self-employed person is personally liable for their business debts. However, where a self-employed person trades as a limited company, we get into the question of how microbusinesses are run. That goes back to the point I made to the hon. Member for Makerfield: it would be a danger if the single financial guidance body were seen as a panacea for all problems, and in these particular circumstances I am certain that it is not appropriate for it to become the adviser to microbusinesses. It simply does not have the capability, that is not its core specialism, and there are other organisations to which it can refer and signpost people.

I take entirely the legitimate point about the grey area that Citizens Advice and others see on a regular basis—we all see it, too, when a gentleman comes into a surgery with a sheaf of papers, plonks them on our desk and says, “Please solve that”—but I do not believe it is appropriate for the Government to shape the body in that way at this moment. I will discuss the issue further with the Money Advice Service, but for present purposes, I oppose the amendment.

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On the question of what is a personal debt and what is a self-employment or business-type debt, if a self-employed person who is a sole trader—that is, unincorporated—takes on a loan for a van or something else, that by its very nature becomes a personal debt. That is the nature of being a sole trader. Complications may arise where that person, who to all other intents is self-employed, trades as a micro limited company. If, because of difficulties accessing credit through the limited company, that person decided to take a personal loan and then provide it as a director’s loan account to his or her own limited company, what status would that loan have? I imagine in law—

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Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that interventions should be brief and to the point. I am happy to call him if he wants to make a speech, but he must keep his interventions a good deal shorter than that.

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Thank you for that advice, Mr Stringer. This is of course a complicated area, which requires a little extra explanation. In that instance, the bank or credit provider would recognise that as a personal loan. I wonder whether that would be covered by the advice that may be available.

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I recognise my hon. Friend’s expertise in such matters, and I thank him for his intervention. Support for self-employed people is covered by the Bill, because the self-employed are members of the public, in the way he outlined. Any personal business debt of a self-employed person is covered in respect of them being an individual member of the public.

I take my hon. Friend’s point about loans. I am delighted to say that I am not able to answer it right now, but I will definitely get back to him. In seriousness, we need to consider that point and work out whether there is any way of changing it and taking on board the views of the organisations that have practised in this area for some considerable time. I will certainly write to him with a specific answer and circulate that answer to all Committee members.

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The hon. Member for South Thanet is absolutely right, and his examples about the complexity we face are fascinating. The Minister’s response has been helpful. The new service is welcome; there is a degree of confusion about exactly what it can do for the self-employed, but that has already been substantially clarified. We recognise the complexity the hon. Gentleman summed up so well, so if the issue of business advice—if I can use that as a shorthand term—is not addressed effectively at this stage of the Bill, it will have to be addressed at another stage. Even if we cannot make progress in Committee, the Minister’s undertaking to engage in discussions will be warmly welcomed by organisations such as the Money Advice Trust and the Federation of Small Businesses.

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May I briefly clarify a point that I should have addressed in my response? I applaud the Money Advice Trust’s work, but in the briefing that it submitted to our Committee, it seeks broader business support, arguing that the single financial guidance body should address a host of other things and be available to small businesses more broadly—a mission creep that I would oppose. The MAT is a laudable charity and I respect entirely its good work, but that is a classic example of the mission creep that we want to avoid. Both the hon. Gentleman and I support the charity and its good works, but I believe that there is a limit to the assistance that the FSGB should give to that charity and its objectives.

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It is legitimate mission creep. What is good about our exchange is that we recognise that making progress with the issues identified by the MAT and the hon. Member for South Thanet may be difficult in Committee, but we can move forward at a later stage. The Minister’s point is absolutely right, but no one is suggesting that we should duplicate the functions of other bodies. If we can move forward at a later stage, jointly engaging with the organisations that represent the self-employed and those who advise them, it will be welcomed both by the organisations concerned and by the self-employed who need that advice and guidance. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 38, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

“(4) The single financial guidance body must, within three months of being established, define the following terms within the context of its objectives and functions—

(a) “information”,

(b) “guidance” and

(c) “advice”.”

This amendment would require the new body to define “information”, “guidance” and “advice” so that consumers are better able to understand which of the three would be most helpful to them.

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With this it will be convenient to consider clause stand part.

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The amendment is pretty straightforward and sensible. It would clarify the important differences between information, guidance and advice, which we know have a major impact on people’s decisions and how reliable they are if things go wrong. It is not often that parliamentarians admit ignorance, but before I became pensions spokesperson, I did not realise that there was any official difference between the three terms. I am a Member of Parliament and I have only recently found that out, so the Committee can imagine what it must be like for the general public. As long as the Government clarify the definitions of the three terms, I will be happy to withdraw the amendment.

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I support the hon. Lady’s request for definition of the terms, although I recognise that it is difficult not to stray into other areas. A further concern is that the information, guidance and advice need to be free and impartial. There are too many pensions providers that spend a lot of money—I heard of one spending £15 million—on ensuring their advice is compliant with all the FCA impartiality rules. As somebody said, if pension providers are spending £15 million on making their advice impartial, they must be expecting some return on their investment. That worries me—that people are gently steered towards a particular product if they go to a particular service.

I believe that some of the comparison websites that people use are not always impartial. If they take money for the top rankings, they are not providing a properly impartial service. People do not understand the differences between those comparison website that have paid-for rankings at the top and those that are completely impartial, based on objective criteria. Guidance on the types of investment can be different when it leads to a product sale, unlike when it is just helping a consumer through their options, completely free of any sales pitch.

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I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on insurance and financial services. I welcome the Bill in general, and from my conversations with the insurance industry I know that it is very supportive of the Bill and of the establishment of the single financial guidance body as great step forward to having access to guidance at relevant points in life. Because of the welcome pension freedoms, that guidance has become more essential than ever before.

There is good practice in the industry already—for example, Aviva insurance is running its MOT at 50 scheme, on which the preliminary feedback has been very positive. The results show that getting advice made people far more engaged with their finances and more likely to plan for their retirement, and many went on to seek regulated advice. The crucial point that Aviva made was that by delivering the MOT at 50, people had time to change their plans, think realistically about the future to meet their retirement objectives.

I want the Minister to give clarification on three points. First, what will the Bill provide for consumers? From the APPG’s and my perspective, it should look at providing financial resilience, promoting early intervention to prepare for life events, and raising awareness of the benefits of protection products, which are particularly helpful for the self-employed—things such as income protection, critical illness and life insurance. In my experience as a broker, people generally only took those when it was too late and when they had had a bad experience. If we can help to advise people ahead of incidents, that would be really useful.

Secondly, could we have clarification on the timeline for implementing the SFGB and assurances that transitional agreements will provide certainty of access to guidance for consumers, and certainty for providers in relation to signposting arrangements? Thirdly, will the Minister set out how the new body will set standards to be approved by the FCA? The Bill says that that should happen, but it does not specify how it should be approached or how it intends to set out the strategy. Could the Minister provide some guidance on that? I appreciate that the answer to the third point might be quite detailed and I will be happy if we wants to write to me with the information. I look forward to his response.

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On the pensions dashboard—

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We are still on clause 2. Is the hon. Gentleman clear about that?

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To echo what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said, it has been a long week and I think we will all have situations where we start addressing particular clauses at the wrong time.

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I hope not.

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I hope not, too, but I have done so well thus far and it cannot last. I will try to address in their entirety the three specific points raised by the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire South and for Makerfield and by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire.

The first point is about whether the body itself will provide free and impartial advice and services. The shake of the head betrays the hon. Member for Makerfield. I draw her attention to clause 3, which I suggest she clearly has not read as much as she should have, because the House of Lords made sure that the provision was in the Bill. I accept that I am slightly straying off the subject of clause 2, but she will see that subsections (4), (5) and (6) of clause 3 set out that the function is to provide to members of the public free—

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I understand the reference that the Minister makes to the functions described in clause 3, but the functions are meaningless so long as people do not understand what the difference is between information, guidance and advice.

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I will come to the comprehension point in a second, if the hon. Lady will permit. I will deal with all three points.

After the legislation was suitably amended, debated, discussed and agreed with their lordships, it was specifically written into the Bill that the information, guidance and advice should be free and impartial. I take the point that the hon. Member for Makerfield raises, but I hope that she is reassured that that has been specifically written into the Bill, and is addressed there.

On the definition of terms, may I address the points made by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South that go to the fundamentals of her amendment? One of the key recommendations of the financial advice market review—sometimes known as FAMR—was to clarify the regulatory definition of financial advice. The Government consulted on revising the definition of regulated advice in the existing Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001, so that regulated advice was based on a personal recommendation. That definition is in line with the EU definition set out in the markets in financial instruments directive 2004, catchily known as MFID. The Government agreed that revision, which came into force in early January 2018. We therefore suggest that introducing a new definition of advice in the Bill is unnecessary and potentially duplicative. It would cut across existing regulatory architecture, not just in respect of what the Bill is trying to do and the clients it covers, but across other aspects of the Treasury and dealings with the Financial Conduct Authority and industry and consumer groups. In addition, using legislation to establish definitions for those terms would not provide the flexibility in the future to adapt the definitions appropriately, if and when that needed to take place.

I also take issue with a number of points regarding the amendment. First, the three organisations that we are merging to form the single body do not seek the definitions that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South is seeking to persuade us of. Those organisations are a pretty good guide to what the Government are doing, because we have consulted at length, asked them what they want us to do, and they most definitely have not said, “Go away and define those individual points.” They want the degree of latitude to continue.

Secondly, the hon. Lady asked the body to do this within three months. To answer my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire on timings, we hope that the body will be created—subject to the good will of the House and Her Majesty signing on the dotted line—between the end of October and the beginning of December. Asking the body to make, within three months of its creation, having merged three organisations, a definition that would probably apply across all financial sectors is, with respect, putting quite a big burden on the body. Also, it is not the appropriate organisation to do that. That should be done by the independent Financial Conduct Authority, suitably engaged in consultation with wider parties. We have done that in relation to advice; that is why we had the FAMR review. To be fair to the FCA, it took two years of long, hard struggle to come up with the specific definition that all parties were content with. I go back to the point that while those particular points are not sought by the individuals, I believe that it is not appropriate to give the definitions.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire asked about timings. We will be up and running, with a fair wind, in winter 2018—but beware of Ministers who say when things will happen, and of course winter in parliamentary terms can stretch a long time. The standards by which the single financial guidance body will be judged are set out in clause 10, on which I am delighted to be addressing the Committee this afternoon, so I will not go into detail about the standards now but will ensure I set out a bit of detail in answer to that question when we debate clause 10, so bear with me. He also made a point about resilience and life events, which I will address briefly.

A simple point is made about resilience, as set out in clause 2 through the various objectives described, whether the consumer protection or the strategic function. It is also fundamentally set out in clause 3(9), which mentions

“financial capability of members of the public”.

One may use “resilience” or “capability”, but the words—without getting too much into definitions—are all but interchangeable and, in the circumstances, we believe that those provisions address capability and the points made by my hon. Friend.

Regarding preparation for life events, my hon. Friend is a passionate supporter, as am I, of the concept of the mid-life MOT, which has been pioneered by certain companies, including Aviva. As a Government, in particular the Department for Work and Pensions, we are looking at the idea of people, at different critical points of their life, the middle point in particular, assessing where they are in terms of finances, pensions, guidance and everything. That seems eminently sensible to us, and we encourage all private sector organisations to do it. We are formulating plans.

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But does the Minister agree that it is not only major life events that can cause a problem? In connection with financial resilience, we all know that it might be the broken washing machine that can cause a bump for people who do not have that amount of savings. On financial capability, does the Bill look at addressing the need for people to build up a small pot of savings?

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The answer is yes. Capability is about the ability to deal with life events, whether the traditional ones such as marriage, birth of a child, retirement or the middle of one’s life generally, or—the hon. Lady is dead right—the washing machine or the car breaking down. There is formulated, as I am sure she is aware, things such as the sidecar proposal that is attached to auto-enrolment specifically to provide a savings pot to deal with life events, so that people are not affected by the sudden events involving £100 or £200 and so on. The Department is definitely working on such things, as we will seek to work with the single financial guidance body to ensure that it formulates those strategies. As the BBC puts it, there are other providers, such as Moneybox, Plum or—the name of the third one that I am particularly impressed by—Chip, which allow people to make small savings through day-to-day earnings and usage, giving them a pocket of savings to deal with things. We very much support all such organisations, and I utterly endorse the points made.

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The logic behind the amendment is that right now we have hit a fork in the pensions road, because we are recognising that we might not be able to sustain a lot of the things in place now into the future. People are making decisions about their pensions when, to be frank, they do not have a clue about what they are doing, and they are ending up in horrendous situations because of a lack of understanding and of clarity. To me it seems perfectly reasonable to point out that those three terms, which may be used interchangeably in general conversation, in reality can have a massive impact on an individual.

The Government are promoting an ethos of educating and informing people, to ensure they make the right decision, and I do not see how the amendment waters that down in any sense. I know the Minister is saying that the body needs freedom, and so we cannot define terms as precisely as we would like, but that sounds like the Government are saying that we just have to trust the body’s good will. This is a Government Bill, so why not strengthen it where we can? In that spirit, I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the basis that my later amendments are given due consideration, and that the Minister takes on board what I said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Functions

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I beg to move amendment 26, in clause 3, page 3, line 5, at end insert

“including by means of provision to the public of a pensions dashboard within the meaning of subsection (11).”

This amendment would require the single financial guidance body to provide for the public a pensions dashboard as part of its pension guidance function.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 31, in clause 3, page 3, line 34, at end insert—

‘(11) In this section and section 5, “pensions dashboard” means a publicly available service where members of the public can securely view details of their state and other pensions savings.”

This amendment defines “pensions dashboard” for the purposes of Amendment 26 and 32.

Amendment 32, in clause 5, page 4, line 12, at end insert

“including by means of provision to the public of a pensions dashboard within the meaning of section 3(11).”

This amendment would require the single financial guidance body to provide for the public a pensions dashboard as part of its pension guidance function.

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The lead amendment defines a pensions dashboard. It would require the single financial guidance body to provide for the public a pensions dashboard as part of its pension guidance function.

The idea of a pensions dashboard as a one-stop shop, enabling people to look at their pension scheme assets in one place, has been considered for a long time. We should have introduced one years ago. Many people across the country have very little idea of the value of their pension schemes—they may be in multiple schemes, and as a result they may have no idea what the returns might be. Pensions are a grey area for millions of people who believe they do not need to worry about it in the here and now, and that they will be able to deal with it when the time comes, but that is simply not the best or the most productive approach.

If someone has a solid awareness of the state their pension schemes, they have a much better insight into their future earnings after they retire, and they know whether they should put more—or perhaps, on occasion, less—money into their pension pot now. Crucially, this is about getting people to look forward and save for the future. A person moving jobs may have up to 11 small pension pots—that was the case for somebody I encountered recently—but perhaps only one provider has up-to-date details about them.

Government policy needs to be clear about whether and how the use of the dashboard can measurably reduce the small pots problem, and improve the position of savers whose funds are sitting in legacy products that offer poor value. We should introduce a pensions dashboard as a single public service dashboard overseen and hosted by the new single financial guidance body. It should be a safe viewing place, where an individual can see all the necessary information on their state and other pensions savings.

Although we did not press the amendment to a vote on Second Reading—indeed, depending on the Minister’s response, we may not do so today—we raised this issue because we urge the Government to look at making it a statutory duty, including for pension providers, to engage with the publicly owned dashboard, and thus to ensure that everyone has a complete picture of their pension situation when using it. The data should only be visible one way. Pension providers should not be able to see an individual’s pension dashboard. They must, however, be obliged to provide data towards it. If the direction of travel is in favour of a pensions dashboard—if that is common ground—the issue of what I describe as a duty to co-operate with the new mechanism is of the highest importance. If the dashboard is to be successful, all providers must release their data into it, although there still are some big, significant questions to be answered about governance, implementation and consumer protection —I would be the first to accept that—before the Government can move to compel all providers to provide the data that the industry is calling for.

Within the dashboard, there should be a pension finder service—an engine that sends out messages to search the records of all providers and schemes to see whether there is a match for the customer’s details. The engine would then collect that data to populate the consumer’s front-end viewing space.

The data of millions would be accessible through the dashboard, so I stress again: high standards, tough regulation and sound governance will be required to ensure that there is no abuse of a mechanism that is absolutely crucial to help people plan for the future. There are problems to be overcome, but a dashboard can make pensions guidance more effective. Individuals would have greater knowledge, which would improve the guidance conversation, with less time spent on working out what people have and more on giving the quality guidance that they need.

The direction of travel is common ground. We ask the Minister to brief the Committee on where the Government’s plans have reached, and I will respond accordingly.

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I am delighted to have the opportunity to update the Committee on the pensions dashboard, which is a project I have very much taken to heart in the seven months I have had this job. I am massively committed to it. I endorse utterly the broad thrust of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington says. It is a groundbreaking project that will provide the holy grail of access to the variety of pension pots we have, in various shapes and forms, as we get older in life—state pension, private pensions or other types of pensions—on one accessible portal.

However, the proposal to launch the dashboard was taken only in autumn last year. The Department for Work and Pensions is undertaking a feasibility study, which will be finished in March. I propose to report to the House of Commons by written or oral statement before the end of this term. The objective, which is very ambitious, is to launch the dashboard in some shape or form by May 2019.

I resist the amendment on the simple basis that, although it is very possible that the single financial guidance body will ultimately run the dashboard, that simply cannot be said at the present stage. There are a considerable number of complexities with the dashboard: the retention of a huge amount of different types of data, whether from state pension data or private pensions; who has access to that data; who controls it; and whether that is something that should be done by the Government, as ultimately the most trusted provider—regardless of whether one trusts or does not trust any particular Government—or by a relatively independent quango such as the single financial guidance body. There is an issue about what body would take it forward and hold the data, and the extent to which the data is accessible, to whom and in what way. There is a lot of devil in the detail, but the objective is utterly clear.

The amendment seeks to put in the Bill that the single financial guidance body will be in charge of the pensions dashboard and will take it forward. This slightly goes to the earlier point from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South about three months. I would be nervous of saying to the single financial guidance body, which has a big job ahead of it, that it is being set up to merge these organisations, provide all these services, do all of the things we want it to do, and then say, “By the way, on top of that, you have to do the single most complex piece of administration of all aspects of all pensions straightaway within six months of your creation.” In my view, that would be a significant burden on that body at a very early stage. If it was a business, we would be asking, “Why deviate from the core purpose right now?”

It is possible that once the dashboard is up and running, the logical organisation to take it forward and run it would be the single financial guidance body, but I would be reluctant to commit to that in the Bill. I certainly do not want it to take that on right at the very start. I am happy to work with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and colleagues across the House as we go forward. I do not think there is a single naysayer to the project, but one should not underestimate its size or complexity.

For present purposes, I will resist the three amendments. I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman and other Committee members and explain the issue in more detail, as I did when I appeared before my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar and his colleagues on the Work and Pensions Committee. The Chair of that Committee was very dubious about the likelihood of a dashboard coming into existence. He said that it would not happen during his lifetime, but I robustly assured him that it would. I hope that it will be up and running by May 2019, and that the body will advise it. I therefore respectfully resist the amendments.

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I agree that this is a groundbreaking proposal. We have believed for some years that a pensions dashboard is essential, and there is common ground across the House that one should be introduced. We will not press the amendment to a vote, but we argue that such a dashboard should be part of the core purpose of the new SFGB.

What the Minister said is helpful. It is right that there is a feasibility study that includes investigation of the complexities, not least because, as I mentioned, on the one hand we want individuals to have access to high-quality advice and guidance, but on the other we have to protect data and ensure that individuals are not put at risk as a consequence of data leaks of one kind or another. I would be the first to recognise the complexity of that, and I welcome the fact that there will be a report in March.

Let me make two concluding points. We strongly believe that the SFGB is the best mechanism, but let us have that discussion at the next stage. I welcome what the Minister said about being prepared to sit down and talk that through at the next stage, including with the industry and stakeholders. All that is already happening, but it needs to be done in respect of the construction and final shape of the dashboard and precisely where it is located. I look forward to those discussions at the next stage and, on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Does the Committee agree that the amendment be withdrawn?

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With respect, Mr Stringer, I think you mean “amendments”. We are dealing with amendments 26, 31 and 32.

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I apologise for not using the plural. The Minister is absolutely right.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 27, in clause 3, page 3, line 27, after “develop” insert “deliver”.

This amendment would strengthen the SFGBs strategic function to support and co-ordinate a national strategy to a “develop and deliver” function.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 29, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(d) financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.”

This amendment creates a duty for the single financial guidance body to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.

Amendment 39, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(d) the uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body by members of the public, and

(e) the understanding of pensions amongst those between the ages of 18 and 55.”

This amendment would add improving uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body, and improve understanding of pensions amongst people aged 18 to 55 to the requirements under the body’s strategic function.

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These amendments deal with developing and delivering the function of the SFGB and with the notion of a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.

Amendment 27 would strengthen the SFGB’s strategic function to support and co-ordinate a national strategy to what we call a “develop and deliver” function. We propose that the new body should not only play a part in developing and devising the national strategy for increased financial education and inclusion, but be tasked with delivering that function. As the primary body for advice and guidance on financial services, it will be best placed to deliver a scheme that seems to target a specific area of need—financial illiteracy—for many people in the United Kingdom.

As we have stated from the start, this is a two-topic Bill. The first concerns the establishment of a new arm’s length entity to replace the three existing publicly funded consumer bodies. The SFGB will have a strategic function to support and co-ordinate the development of a national strategy. The Bill’s stated aim, which we support, is to increase financial capability, reduce problem debt and improve public understanding of occupational and personal pensions. Especially given the appointment of a Minister for Financial Inclusion, the SFGB’s strategic function could be strengthened to a “develop and deliver” function, despite the fact that the body may have limited leverage in certain areas.

As stated in the Lords Committee on Financial Exclusion, a real strength of the Money Advice Service is its focus on what works and on gathering together an evidence hub. We do not want to see momentum lost—[Interruption.] I am confident, given Government Members’ reaction, that no one wants to see that work slip through our fingers; that would be a missed opportunity. The Committee concluded that

“it is important for the Government and service providers to continue to develop a greater knowledge of ‘what works’ when seeking to deliver increased financial capability.”

Sadly, there are many recent examples of vulnerable individuals who have been preyed upon by so-called introducers at a time when the state of their pension scheme has been in question—in particular, British Steel workers in Port Talbot and, more recently, Carillion workers. Earlier, I told hon. Members about a shift supervisor breaking down in tears because he made a wrong decision after receiving bad advice, and because 20 others on his shift had followed his bad advice. He said that he would never forgive himself. Introducers—vultures—pounce upon workers at a time when they are unsure about their future financial situation, and persuade them to transfer their pension savings to a different scheme that will lose them money and often attracts high fees. Such examples illustrate the need for a national strategy to improve the financial education available to the British public.

The admirable Michelle Cracknell, chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service, makes the point that we have the green cross code—I am sure all hon. Members have seen it—to encourage the safe crossing of streets. It is inculcated in people’s minds and has been very effectively promoted. I went through it with my own kids. She says that, likewise—although not perhaps in the same way—we should encourage people to pause, think and get it right, particularly in circumstances of adversity. We should also help people plan for the future. Either way, that “Where do I turn?” is absolutely crucial. The new body will be a welcome step in the right direction, but we need to deliver a dynamic new body that works hard to create awareness.

The amendment would create a duty for the single financial guidance body to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market. Due to the increasingly fragmented and insecure nature of the contemporary labour market, many people are sadly perpetually in a precarious financial situation. I have seen that at first hand time and again in my constituency and in my former role at Unite the union. That group, now commonly known as the precariat, includes self-employed people, workers on zero-hours contracts, part-time workers, workers in the gig economy and those who are conscripted into bogus self-employment. I stress once again that I always draw a distinction between the admirable people—there are many—who want to work on a self-employed basis, and those who are given no alternative, including by employers such as Uber.

Due to the nature of their work and their hours, those people often find it difficult to access basic financial services. It can be hard for them to rent a home, to get a mortgage, to find home or contents insurance, and to access credit. That has contributed to record low levels of disposable income, alongside the longest wage stagnation in 150 years. Figures released last year suggest that the number of self-employed workers in the UK rose by 23% between 2007 and 2017, from 3.8 million to 4.7 million. Many of them are desperately in need of high-quality advice and guidance. What we are seeing is a shift in the nature of the world of work and the way that the British economy is working. The self-employed now represent 15% of the workforce and 91% of businesses. Although that can mean many enjoying greater flexibility and control over their working lives, it can have a negative impact on their access to finance.

A 2017 FCA report showed that consumers with no permanent address or who move regularly, which is often a characteristic of insecure employment, can regularly have problems opening bank accounts and accessing insurance and credit. That is a common situation for many people in the current labour market, particularly young people in metropolitan areas. Due to short-term tenancies and insecure working patterns, many people move on a regular basis. That can leave them open to problems accessing basic financial services and they may need guidance on the best way to go about that. The amendment proposes that the new body would need to devise its strategy and financial guidance taking into account the contemporary labour market and the challenges it delivers.

There is no question but that we have a rapidly changing labour market, with many badly in need of advice and support, as a consequence of patterns of employment. The Government have recognised the need for a focus on the issues about the modern labour market through the Matthew Taylor report. The amendment sits comfortably in the context of the overall scrutiny by the Government and Parliament on how we respond on what is permissible in the future in terms of patterns of employment, and how to, in the here and now, give support to people in insecure employment that time and again they so badly need.

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Just before I call the Government Whip, let me clarify my previous remarks about amendments being withdrawn. I was a little too eager to agree with the Minister. The question before us then was whether the amendment should be made. We were discussing two other amendments with that, but they were not for decision, so it was singular and not plural—I am just trying to be helpful, Minister.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Amanda Milling.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [ Lords ] (Second sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Andrew Rosindell, Graham Stringer

† Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

† Black, Mhairi (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

† Burghart, Alex (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)

Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)

† Dromey, Jack (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)

† Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab)

† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

† Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

† Latham, Mrs Pauline (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)

† Mackinlay, Craig (South Thanet) (Con)

† Merriman, Huw (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

† Milling, Amanda (Cannock Chase) (Con)

† Opperman, Guy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)

† Reeves, Ellie (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)

Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

Jyoti Chandola, Gail Bartlett, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 1 February 2018

(Afternoon)

[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords]

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Welcome to the afternoon sitting. I must first inform the Committee that the question that schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill was not put at the appropriate point this morning. To rectify this error, I must now put the question.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 3

Functions

Amendment proposed (this day): 27, in clause 3, page 3, line 27, after “develop” insert “deliver”.—(Jack Dromey.)

This amendment would strengthen the SFGB’s strategic function to support and co-ordinate a national strategy to a “develop and deliver” function.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

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I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment 29, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(d) financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.”

This amendment creates a duty for the single financial guidance body to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.

Amendment 39, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(d) the uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body by members of the public, and

(e) the understanding of pensions amongst those between the ages of 18 and 55.”

This amendment would add improving uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body, and improve understanding of pensions amongst people aged 18 to 55 to the requirements under the body’s strategic function.

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I had anticipated that we would deal with amendments 27, 29 and 39 together. I thought that they would have been grouped, but I will address amendment 27 to start, and take your guidance from there, Mr Rosindell.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington proposes in amendment 27 to amend the Bill by a single word. The strategic function of the Bill as drafted and its three elements have been carefully designed, and I believe that the amendment should not be made. Through its strategic function, the guidance body will bring together interested partners in the sector, various services, the public and voluntary sectors and the devolved administrations with the aim of improving the ability of members of the public to manage their finances effectively. To that end, the body will develop and co-ordinate a national strategy.

The Money Advice Service has been undertaking that vital role to date, and key stakeholders agree that that important work should continue and be expanded. The national strategy will succeed only if the new body works effectively with its many partner organisations in the financial services and other sectors in a collective effort with shared ownership and accountability. Indeed, the premise of the national strategy is that one organisation working independently has little chance of making a great impact, but many working together have more. The role of the new body will be to drive the process forward and oversee its implementation, but not to be solely responsible for the delivery of the strategy in its entirety. For those good reasons, I urge the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington to withdraw the amendment.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Briefly, in the words of the Minister, a national strategy will be pursued at the next stages, including a range of stakeholders and, I suspect, other enforcement bodies. Flowing from what the Minister said, the question is who will drive that at the next stages. The single financial guidance body will clearly and undoubtedly have a pivotal and central function.

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indicated assent.

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I see the Minister nodding his head in agreement. In those circumstances, we look for a dynamic body to do precisely that: drive the national strategy. On that basis, I am content not to press the amendment.

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Amendment 29 is part of the same group. Does the Minister wish to speak?

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Amendment 29 seeks to add another strand to the three existing areas of the strategy set out in the Bill. The Government agree with the hon. Gentleman on the overall principle that the strategy of the new body needs to be future-proof and flexible, to meet the challenges that an evolving modern economy might bring. Clearly the Taylor review is relevant to all those factors, but we do not believe that the amendment is necessary. It lacks a specific focus and would risk diverting focus and resources from the areas that we believe the body should prioritise through its strategic function. As I understand it, the amendment is not sought by existing providers. In the circumstances, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press the amendment.

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It is not for one moment our intention to divert focus from the body’s core and strategic function. All I would say is that the changes taking place in the modern labour market are immense, complex and often profoundly disturbing. To give one example from my personal history, in 2003-04, alongside Gillian Shephard, I chaired the coalition of support that resulted in the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. From plough to plate— from the National Farmers Union to the supermarkets—it sought to tackle some of the worst abuses of workers and the undercutting of reputable providers by rogues. My experience—like that of all Committee members, I suspect—is that there is much in the modern workplace and the world of work that is profoundly disturbing and needs to be tackled. Having said that, the Minister said himself that the body would take account of the demands in the modern labour market.

As far as the Taylor process is concerned, I know Matthew very well and his report contains some valuable proposals, although I do not agree with them all. It is helpful that on the Government’s part there has been a focus on the modern labour market, including the gig economy. In those circumstances, particularly in the light of what the Minister said about the context of the Taylor review and the demands of the modern labour market, I shall not press the amendment.

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To clarify, amendments 27, 29 and 39 are part of a single group, so any Member who wishes to speak to any of the three amendments must do so now.

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I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(9A) In seeking to improve the provision of financial education to children and young people, the single financial guidance body may advise the Secretary of State that—

(a) Ofsted should take into account the financial education provided by schools when carrying out inspections, and

(b) financial education should be added to the primary school education curriculum.”

This amendment allows the single financial guidance body to, as part of its function to improve the provision of financial education to children and young people, advise the Secretary of State that Ofsted should take account of financial education when carrying out inspections, and that financial education should be added to the primary school curriculum.

Some hon. Members may be surprised by the amendment, but I will explain why it is important. We believe that the provision of financial education to young adults in further and higher education—let alone to primary school children—needs to be improved. Young adults are an important age group not particularly well served under current arrangements. We believe that, where appropriate, education providers should incorporate financial education modules into programmes of study.

Thousands of young people throughout the country leave school without the necessary financial knowledge to approach critical situations such as applying for credit and mortgages. Research shows that 37% of 18 to 24-year-olds hold one or more credit cards, an overdraft or another form of borrowing, with average combined debts of £2,989, not including student loans or mortgages. The House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion heard that 51% of 18 to 24-year-olds regularly worry about money. Generally, half of all UK adults modestly rate themselves as having some understanding of financial products and services, while 15% say that they have a very good understanding and a minority of just 5% admit to having no understanding. Just 54% of the C2, D and E social classes say that they have some understanding or a very good understanding of financial products and services.

In September 2014, in a welcome move by the then coalition Government, financial education was added to the statutory national curriculum for secondary schools in England. Since then, schools have been required to include financial education as part of mathematics and citizenship teaching at key stages 3 and 4. However, there is still no requirement for English primary schools to include financial education as part of their teaching. In addition, as only 35% of state-funded secondary schools are now maintained schools, the obligation to teach financial education does not apply to nearly two thirds of all state secondary schools.

As the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) said on Second Reading:

“We live in a very complex society, with direct debits, standing orders and complicated marketing messages coming forward. Making sure that we equip all people of all ages to make informed decisions is an absolute priority.”––[Official Report, Financial Guidance and Claims Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2018; c. 62.]

The hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) said:

“The development of key skills and knowledge about money matters helps pupils and, indeed, their parents to make wise choices in later life, when innovations in financial technology and online consumer tools—not to mention the march towards a cashless society—will make previous experience and the advice of their elders an unreliable guide.” ––[Official Report, Financial Guidance and Claims Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2018; c. 95.]

In a world in which credit and financial services are more readily available than ever, it is vital that Britain’s young people are given the financial education they need to approach those challenges when they leave education. In the view of the Opposition, it is only through mandatory financial education in both primary and secondary schools that we can be confident that young people will be equipped both to achieve the best possible start in life, and to avoid being exploited by the ruthless.

Returning to my first point, some may ask whether financial education should be taught in primary schools. My experience is that it is crucial that children at young age—primary school age—are involved in crucial discussions that help them to understand the future and the challenges they will face. I will give two examples.

First, Jaguar Land Rover—an excellent company; the Jaguar plant is in my constituency—has a highly developed programme of operating in primary schools. That is because it is the kind of company that looks ahead two to five years, five to 10 years and 10 to 20 years. It always has a particular problem in the recruitment of skilled labour, and it wants, through its work in primary schools, to open up the horizons of primary school children more generally. That is very important in a constituency such as mine, which is rich in talent but is one of the poorest in the country and has high unemployment. In particular, JLR wants to encourage young girls to see themselves as having a future in engineering and car manufacturing. Its strong view is that, without starting that work at that age, by the time people get to secondary school and beyond, preconceptions are formed about what is appropriate for a young girl, and ultimately a woman, to do.

My second example is controversial, although it has cross-party support. I have worked very closely with the admirable Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which collaborates with the police and local authorities. I have seen it at first hand its programme in primary schools that uses a comic book format to teach children to spot risk and harm, to reject any obscene approaches and to know with whom they should talk if they feel themselves threatened. When we embarked down this path in Birmingham, where more than 100 primary schools have now used the programme, I remember some parents saying, “What? At primary school age?” Actually, in a non-threatening way, we absolutely want to make a start in helping children to understand the difference between family and friends on the one hand and those who would seek to exploit them on the other.

I am giving examples of important areas in which primary school children are equipped to deal with the modern world. And coming back to the issue of financial guidance, I suspect that not many primary school children have credit cards. Having said that, however, as they grow up they will need to know how to manage their finances, how to avoid exploitation by those who would seek to exploit their vulnerability and how to get the best possible start in life.

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I rise to recount some of my own experience. I was fortunate enough to employ a financial capability adviser from 2000 to 2010, when I left, although I have to say that every time we applied for funding he changed his job title. That adviser went into primary schools as well.

I am wary about adding things to the curriculum, because I understand that teachers are hard-pressed, but it does not have to be teachers who do this work. We sent in the adviser; he did a recognised course with a teacher, which gave the teacher confidence to carry on his work later. The primary school children were really engaged in the lesson, because somebody from outside had come in, and we also went in with the credit unions, to encourage the children to start an early habit of saving, as well.

That is when children are really keen. It is competitive—who can save the most in their little account out of their pocket money and so on? It was really successful. The schools liked it. I would love to get the funding to go back now, to see how those “adults” are coping after having had that education at primary school level, but unfortunately that was not possible. However, I believe that that work helped.

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The hon. Lady will be very pleased to know that Her Majesty’s Treasury, present in the form of the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, provides the LifeSavers programme, which I am lucky to have bid for on behalf of my constituency, and which does exactly what she has just described. Her speech might be seen as a bid to continue the LifeSavers programme—it obviously has a life span—and then she would be able to bid for her community to be part of the programme in partnership with the Church of England and whichever credit union she wishes to support.

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I shall make sure that Unify, my local credit union, gets a copy of that information.

One of the side effects of sending the adviser into schools, badged as the citizens advice bureau adviser, was that we encountered an upsurge in parents coming to us who were prepared to discuss their debts. It was as if having someone there who was talking to the children made them examine their finances; the children were going home and saying, “Look! We’ve been looking at this!” prompting their parents to examine their own finances, and then they already knew where to go to talk about their debt. So the work had that unintended consequence, which I must admit we found hard to deal with, given the resources we had. Nevertheless, it was really beneficial, so I would encourage the Minister to consider that as a proposal.

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I should have said before that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Rosindell, and I welcome you to the Committee.

The hon. Member for Makerfield is right that a significant number of organisations provide, in a primary school setting, particular aspects of financial education in various shapes and forms, whether it is the Association for Citizenship Teaching, MyBnk, the Personal Finance Education Group or a variety of other organisations, and I would happily talk for some considerable period of time and overindulge the Committee on LifeSavers. As she knows, I set up a community bank in my constituency with Archbishop John Sentamu on 5 November 2015, and that community bank has bid for the LifeSavers project in Northumberland, and provides six schools with that financial education. We run six different banks in six different schools in my community. That work is extraordinarily successful. The original pioneer is in Lewisham, which I know the Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, will be interested to hear, and the success rate has been wonderful.

The proposal is that the single financial guidance body should have a look at, and then come up with a strategic assessment of, what the provision of financial education of children and young people should be. I take issue with the Opposition on whether Ofsted should judge schools on the basis of financial education. I say, with respect, that it most definitely should not. Ofsted itself does not seek that, so I definitely disagree with paragraph (a) of the amendment. Ofsted, which has been consulted in broad terms, thinks that it would be inappropriate to inspect financial education specifically, since it usually inspects not individual subjects but the curriculum as a whole.

On the broader points raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, the curriculum is ultimately a matter for the Department for Education. He is right that financial education was brought into the secondary context under the coalition Government. Successive Governments have drilled down on the importance of maths, which is an absolute prerequisite and is fundamental to the education of our young people. The maths curriculum has been strengthened to give pupils from five to 16 the necessary maths skills, and I am sure he has seen in his own constituency the success of mental maths and advanced maths in primary schools. We responded to the House of Lords Committee’s report on financial exclusion in a similar way—I make the same case here.

It will be for the single financial guidance body to target specific areas of need, and to match individual funders and providers of education projects and initiatives aimed at children. The amendment is very broad brush. I would prefer the guidance body to be able to zero in on particular areas. That is the purpose of making overall assessment one of its strategic functions. That means that it will be better able to deliver what we all want: enhanced financial education for our children.

We agree about objectives, but I am not sure that we agree about the way forward for delivery. With respect, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield made a powerful point about the importance of primary schools as places of contact—sometimes the only place of contact—with people who are struggling in their lives. My experience from a number of projects is that what is done in primary school reads across to a child’s parents, so her point is very valuable indeed.

We can question how this should be done, but it is now public policy that children should be involved in financial education. A valuable start has been made with secondary schools, and we will seek at subsequent stages of the Bill to engage with the Government about how that might be extended further. There are questions about the context for that, including the overall maths context, but that can be teased out at the next stage.

Finally, if there is a coalition of support in the Committee for lobbying the Treasury on LifeSavers, I say: “Yes please, but don’t stop at LifeSavers.” On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 3, page 3, line 32, at end insert—

“(d) the understanding members of the public have on how the duties placed on financial service providers under the Equality Act 2010, including the requirements on service providers to make reasonable adjustments, can enhance their ability to manage their financial affairs.”

This amendment would ensure members of the public are informed about what financial services companies need to do to comply with the Equality Act, in particular the duty to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that members of the public are informed about what financial services companies need to do to comply with the Equality Act 2010—in particular, but not exclusively, the duty to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled customers. We are rightly proud of that landmark Act in this country, and I am particularly proud that it was introduced by a Labour Government. There have been subsequent problems with its implementation and, dare I say, without wishing to divert into areas where we would disagree, the implementation of clause 1 of the Equality Act is yet to take place. Having said that, on disability matters, there would certainly be consensus around ensuring that people who have problems with their health and who have disabilities of different kinds get the support that they need and are not taken advantage of.

Under the Act, a person is disabled if they have a “physical or mental impairment” that has

“a substantial and long-term adverse effect”

on their ability

“to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

In that case, a duty to provide goods, facilities or services falls on providers, employers and a range of other parties. People automatically meet the disability definition under the Act from the day that they are diagnosed with a condition such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV infection.

If an organisation that provides goods, facilities or services to the public finds that there are barriers to disabled people in the way it operates, it has an obligation to act, including to consider making reasonable adjustments. If those adjustments are reasonable for that organisation to make, it must make them. That duty is sometimes described as anticipatory, which means that an organisation cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use its goods, facilities or services, but must think in advance and on an ongoing basis about what disabled people with a range of impairments might reasonably need.

An organisation is not required to do more than is reasonable for it to do—I stress that again—but that depends, among other factors, on its size and nature, and on the nature of the goods, facilities and services it provides. Making disabled customers and their advocates aware of that duty means that they will be able to ask their financial service provider to potentially adjust the GFS it offers and to remove any barriers.

Although I would be the first to accept that there is good practice in the sector when it comes to making adjustments for visual and hearing impairments, that is rarely done in the context of the legal framework. In certain circumstances, where that is not done and where conditions such as a cancer diagnosis or neuro-diverse disabilities such as autism, brain injuries and dementia are not considered, that means that people are let down and there is a failure to comply with the terms of the law. For example, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that 66% of people with dementia need some assistance when using a bank and 80% of carers said that banks need a greater understanding of lasting powers of attorney. On the one hand, there is the legal obligation, and on the other, there is an undoubted need for it to be complied with.

There is no reference to the duty to make reasonable adjustments in the Financial Conduct Authority’s handbook. Frankly, I am surprised at that. The handbook contains provisions set out in legislation that are relevant to the FCA and other provisions made by way of instruments by the FCA. It contains a mixture of rules, which are binding obligations that can result in enforcement action if not adhered to, as well as guidance. The amendment will ensure that disabled people or their advocates are informed about the duty to make reasonable adjustments and that they can use that information to ask financial service providers to make adjustments to the goods, facilities and services they provide, which could include removing physical barriers or making services dementia-friendly.

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It is a pleasure to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I will make three key points: I will discuss whether the Equality Act applies to this body in future; I want to give some assurances to the House on an ongoing basis, because that really matters; and I will briefly deal with the point about the duty of care.

It may have escaped the notice of some Committee members, who will have read every single paragraph and every line of every bit of this Bill, but fortunately I have been advised that paragraph 25 of schedule 3, on page 36, helpfully states that the Equality Act, rightly lauded by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, will apply to the single financial guidance body, which will be specifically treated like all public bodies. All Bills have or should have such a provision, to be fair. I believe that the 2010 Act is applicable; if there was any doubt, I hope that that will allay that particular concern. Obviously, it has to integrate the same duties of equality as all other public bodies.

I want to put on the record—this applies to all financial services, including the actions of the single financial guidance body—that if there is any doubt that an organisation is not complying with the Equality Act, there is a process that an individual can go through. They can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which is able to consider an individual firm’s compliance with the Equality Act and decide whether the individual consumer has been dealt with fairly and reasonably. More widely, a consumer can contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and there are plenty of examples of abuses being brought to its attention.

The FCA produced its consumer approach document on 6 November 2017, which sets out a vision of a well-functioning market for consumers and its strategy for achieving that, particularly relating to vulnerable and excluded consumers. Do I pretend that every single organisation is perfect in every way? No, of course I do not. However, I note that in her speech on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned the difficulty suffered by her constituent, whose name I think was Jacci. To its credit, Santander—I believe that was the bank—treated Jacci extremely well. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) gave a similar example of Nationwide treating his constituent very well.

I pay credit to Macmillan for its campaign on duty of care, and numerous other organisations could be named. The long and the short of it is that clearly, as a general obligation, there is a duty of care to all customers, both in contract law, because it is a service provided for a fee, and in the law of negligence if there is any breach. I am delighted that the Economic Secretary has indicated on behalf of the Treasury that he met Macmillan’s chief executive officer to discuss the duty of care.

Last Monday and today’s debates have shown that all financial services, and all public organisations, have a specific and important duty to all their customers and the consumers that we all serve. I hope that that message has got across to them. There are valuable examples of where they have done it right, and without any shadow of a doubt we should be lauding them. However, in terms of the statutory process in which we are engaged regarding amendment 30 and the application of the Equality Act, I invite the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington to withdraw his amendment.

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I actually met Jacci and did a conference with her, and I thought what the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire said on Second Reading was very powerful and moving, telling the story of a wonderful person and using it as proof positive of why we need to ensure—

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Is it not true that other financial institutions could do what Santander did and voluntarily sign up to her “Dying to Work” campaign, which would help everybody that they deal with?

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I strongly agree with the hon. Lady, and that is something we might pursue, including on a joint basis, at the next stages. The “Dying to Work” campaign’s objectives are right. To make the obvious point, she will have seen at first hand what a battle it is for people like Jacci, and I am sure that all of us have come across some very powerful cases in our constituencies. The banks and the financial institutions should absolutely, without hesitation, follow Santander’s lead. Santander is to be congratulated for what it did. Do we have a marketplace where everyone conducts themselves in the same way? No, we do not, so the hon. Lady raises a very valuable point.

In terms of the Minister’s response, it is welcome that, following Second Reading, the situation with regard to the Bill is unambiguous. I want to make two additional points. First, we will return to duty of care later. Secondly, the issue of enforcement is very important. The Equality and Human Rights Commission will have a watchdog role to play, but it is important that, from the start, the single financial guidance body is obliged in law to build into the culture of its operation, as we have argued, oversight of how financial institutions conduct themselves in terms of services, goods and facilities for the disabled.

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I assure the hon. Gentleman that the whole reason we introduced the vulnerable circumstances provision in the Bill was to address that exact point. I cannot stress enough, and I have made the point repeatedly today, that the objective specifically enshrined in the Bill is that the particular needs of people in vulnerable circumstances need to be borne in mind.

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That is welcome. All I will say is that, in our experience, there can be a law or a set of legal obligations, but are they necessarily carried out in practice? In fact, to take the Santander example once again, it took a view that it should do the right thing and that it was obliged by law to do so, but not every provider necessarily takes the same view. The issue of enforcement is key. I stress again that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has a role to play, but at the heart of the SFGB’s operation should be action to ensure that the disabled are not disadvantaged. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Specific requirements as to the pensions guidance function

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I beg to move amendment 33, in clause 5, page 4, line 13, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“(2) In section 137FB of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FCA general rules: disclosure of information about the availability of pensions guidance) after subsection (3) insert—

‘(3A) In determining what provision to include in the rules, the FCA must include a requirement for members of a scheme, or survivors of members of a scheme, to indicate before gaining access to or arranging individual transfer of their pension assets either—

(a) that they have received information and guidance made available under section 5 of the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2017 (specific requirements as to the pensions guidance function), or

(b) that they understand the nature and purpose of that information and guidance and have chosen not to receive it.

(3B) The rules—

(a) must impose an obligation on the trustees or managers of a relevant pension scheme to satisfy themselves that the requirement under subsection (3A) has been complied with,

(b) may make provision about what is to be, or not to be, treated as a sufficient indication under subsection (3A) (which may, in particular, require indication on more than one occasion in specified cases or circumstances),

(c) must specify that accessing a website or receiving published information does not alone amount to receiving information and guidance for the purposes of the requirement under subsection (3A), and

(d) may include exceptions for specified cases (which may include cases of assets below a specified value, cases where information, guidance or advice has already been received, cases of transfers by way of consolidation and any other cases specified in the rules).’”

This amendment would strengthen the provision in the Bill for requiring members of pension schemes to be given access to guidance in specified circumstances, so as to ensure that guidance was actually received or expressly refused.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 2.

Amendment 40, in clause 5, page 4, line 24, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment paves the way for Amendment 41.

Amendment 41, in clause 5, page 4, line 25, leave out from “manager” to end of line 26 and insert “to ensure that, either—

(a) the members of the scheme or survivors of members of the scheme receive information and guidance made available under section 5 of the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2017 (specific requirements as to the pensions guidance function), or

(b) they understand the nature and purpose of that information and have chosen not to receive it,

before proceeding.”

This amendment would require guidance to be provided to members of a relevant pension scheme or their survivors unless they chose to opt out.

Clause stand part.

Government amendment 19.

Government new clause 1—Personal pension schemes: requirements to recommend guidance etc.

Government new clause 2—Occupational pension schemes: requirements to recommend guidance etc.

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Amendment 33 would strengthen the Bill’s provision for requiring members of pension schemes to be given access to guidance in specified circumstances, so as to ensure that the guidance was actually received or expressly refused. As I will come to argue later, that is an absolutely key point. I underline once again that the term “expressly” is crucial and should lie at the heart of the Bill and what happens during the next stages.

Our proposed default guidance would strengthen the Bill and ensure that more people were protected when transferring their pension assets. Currently, the system of checks and balances for those looking to move their pension assets from a defined benefit scheme are very strong. Members are offered guidance at the time and those moving more than £30,000 must undertake mandatory guidance. However, at a time when more and more defined-benefit schemes are closing than ever before, there is no such safety net for those on defined-contribution schemes. In our very strong view, default guidance would provide such checks and balances for those transferring assets with more value than they may have ever seen before in their lives.

Although the guidance offered by Pension Wise to those seeking to transfer their pension is of great value to many people, the take-up is relatively low and many enter into transactions without proper prior knowledge of their options and the consequences. Once again I refer to the story I told earlier today about the Port Talbot steelworker weeping because of the consequences of his actions and the 20 people he was responsible for who followed his lead.

The lack of a provision for default guidance has resulted in many members of schemes suffering detriment through scams or through making the wrong choice. The current system of signposting advice by pension providers to members of schemes who want to transfer or withdraw their pension pot is not working as it should. The providers, particularly the rogues, have no business interest in making sure that their members receive the appropriate advice and, as such, it is not made as clear as it should be. The right kind of default guidance—strong default guidance—would promote shopping around, better informed decision making and protection against scams.

The amendment would mean that members of a scheme, or survivors of members of a scheme, must either indicate that they have received the appropriate guidance before accessing the pension assets, or explicitly state that they do not wish to receive it. They must state explicitly and beyond any doubt that that is their choice

The service given by Pension Wise is highly respected and is appreciated when it is given. Between February 2016 and January 2017, 94% of people who completed an appointment were satisfied and 93% felt informed about their pension options, compared with 56% of a control group who had not used the service. However, as Pension Wise would be the first to acknowledge, the take-up of the service is extremely low. The number of appointments made with Pension Wise is rising—there were 66,000 in 2016-17—but that is still extremely low compared with the number of pension scheme members exercising pension freedoms.

Latest figures from HM Revenue and Customs show that some 772,000 people withdrew more than £6.5 billion from their pension pots in 2017. An FCA survey found that only one in eight 55 to 64-year-olds who plan to retire in the next two years and who have a defined-contribution pension had used the Pension Wise service in a 12-month period. Although traffic to Pension Wise’s website is quite high, it is not a sufficient substitute for access to tailored and personalised advice. As Baroness Altmann said in the Work and Pensions Committee,

“When you introduce pension freedom into a marketplace that has never really been encouraged to engage with pensions and mostly does not understand much about them, obviously you need an expert to help you.”

The National Employment Savings Trust has said that it was concerned

“that people appear to be making decisions based solely on a read of the Pension Wise website”,

and from what we have been told about the experience of others, that is absolutely right. The main means of promoting Pension Wise advice is through signposting by pension providers and through advertising.

The Government have said that

“demand for Pension Wise has been very responsive to paid advertising”,

but the DWP cut the advertising budget by 10% to just £4.5 million in 2017-18. Currently, pension providers are required to inform members of the availability of pensions guidance—this is known as signposting—at various stages of the pension freedoms decision-making process.

Under current arrangements, between four and six months before the intended retirement date, the scheme member must be sent a “wake-up pack” including, among other documents, a “clear and prominent statement” signposting to free, impartial pensions guidance alongside a recommendation to seek appropriate guidance or advice. Next, there is a reminder, six weeks before the client’s retirement date. After that there are further signposts to Pension Wise when there is communication with clients about their decumulation options or about facilitating access to pension funds; then, if appropriate, there is a further signpost to guidance as part of risk warnings when the client has made a decision to access pension savings.

When the Work and Pensions Committee looked at the prospect of mandatory guidance, it was told that it would cause “anger and dissatisfaction” with the pensions system and would be likely to lead to a watering down of the guidance given as it would become just a box-ticking exercise. Default guidance means that everyone will be made either to take the guidance or explicitly state that they do not want it—a system that should lead to an increase in the take-up of guidance. A Conservative Member, the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), said on Second Reading:

“I remain hugely attracted to the principle of default guidance, mirroring the approach taken to auto-enrolment”—

a good parallel—

“with statutory opt-out provisions…if we are looking for something as close as possible to a silver bullet, default guidance is probably it.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 78.]

I could not agree more strongly.

A system of default guidance would be of particular benefit now to those Carillion workers—who knows who will be next?—who may be looking to transfer their pension pot in the coming months, not least to avoid such tragic stories as the one I have told today about Port Talbot steelworkers. Many have been approached by “introducers” looking to make money out of their precarious position. Default guidance would at least give them the chance to receive expert and impartial advice before taking such an important decision.

The Minister has made welcome statements and the Government made positive noises on Second Reading about the need for what is sometimes termed a “further nudge” towards the guidance given by Pension Wise, rather than the current system of signposting. It is unclear why the Government refuse to accept the amendment suggested by the Work and Pensions Committee, which we support. The Government’s watering down—that is what it is—of the Lords amendment on default guidance is wrong. In the words of Baroness Altmann,

“the Government seems to have bowed to industry pressure and proposes to weaken consumer protection for pension customers. By removing a clause introduced in the House of Lords, designed to protect consumers’ pensions better, more people are at risk of losing their hard-earned savings in scams, frauds and unwise pension withdrawals.”

She is absolutely right.

We wait to hear what the Minister will say. We are not satisfied with what the Government have said thus far. It comes down to the simple reality that there is access to high-quality independent guidance that people can count on, and that if people choose not to take it that must be explicit beyond any doubt. It must be unambiguous so that there can be complete confidence that we will not have people, at a time of crisis in their lives, being seduced into making bad decisions for their future.

Has there been some movement? Yes. Have the Government yet gone far enough? No. I wait to hear from the Minister.

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May I be clear, Mr Rosindell, that I should speak to amendment 33 and the Government new clauses in the round?

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I am grateful. I will therefore attempt to answer the points made by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South as well. I will take her points first, because there is a sequential approach.

Effectively, we are all dealing with three drafts. The House of Lords, in its wisdom, produced clause 5(2). Subsequently, the Work and Pensions Committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar is a member, assessed that and produced what is in reality Labour’s amendment 33—the amendment is a straightforward lift from that Select Committee. The Government then went away and produced new clauses 1 and 2 to see if we could improve on it.

I take on board everything that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said. It is manifestly the case that we all want to see the full guidance. We are about to have a precise discussion as to which is the best way to get to the objective we all seek. The Work and Pensions Committee was sure, as are the Government, that clause 5(2) is not good enough and we can improve it massively. Therefore, with no disrespect to the hon. Lady, we will reject her amendments because they are to clause 5(2).

The principle is the same: how can we best improve the drafting from the House of Lords? There are a variety of points, and I hope the Committee will bear with me as I set out a little detail. The Government amendments are specifically in keeping with the intent of the Work and Pensions Committee, and go further. They make provision for all schemes providing flexible benefits, including all defined-contribution schemes regardless of whether they are personal, stakeholder or occupational pension schemes, including in Northern Ireland.

I will make two points at the outset. First, the Work and Pensions Committee’s recommendation does not include occupational pensions, so in any event it is fundamentally deficient, because one would definitely want that. Secondly, Northern Ireland is not included. While there is no representative from Northern Ireland on the Committee—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has not intervened like he normally does—we are in a situation where I have due respect to our good brethren from Northern Ireland, and we are including Northern Ireland in the provisions, which neither of the other provisions had done.

The Government amendments will ensure that there is what we consider proper consideration and co-operation between the Financial Conduct Authority, the Secretary of State and the single financial guidance body so that the FCA rules and regulations are effective, workable and consistent. This is a discrete, important point. The Work and Pensions Committee amendment would require the FCA to impose rules on pension scheme members, but the FCA’s general rules do not entitle that, so the amendment is defective in that way. It also sets out delivery channel exclusions, which would not be appropriate for primary legislation.

The proposal is that there regulations should be informed by consultation. I think all parties agree on that but suggest different mechanisms to get there. Before the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington jumps to his feet, I get that such a consultation needs to be speedy—this is not something for the long grass. The regulations will then reflect informed consultation, with all bodies working together to create the right integrated form, allowing for updates and changes in technology, current user needs, best practice and research on existing rules and regulations as well as taking into account potential exceptions.

It is a brave Minister who starts to give exceptions to the rule, but I will give an example that may assist the Committee. If an individual has very, very small pots, as many people do—perhaps of £10 or £12—and wishes to transfer them or consolidate them, the nature of the advice, guidance and default in relation to that person will possibly be very different to the British steel worker we are dealing with in south Wales or Scunthorpe.

On the specific amendments, we with the broad consensus that we can do more. I have set out new clause 1, which is the effective replacement of clause 5(2). The specifics are that we believe that there are greater criteria and tests in the Government amendments than there are in the Work and Pensions Committee amendment.

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I speak as a member of the Work and Pensions Committee. As we set out, clause 5(2) is an improvement on the original legislation. I believe that the amendment made by the Opposition—it is very flattering to see the wording from the Work and Pensions Committee report—was an improvement on that, but new clause 1 and 2 are an improvement on that amendment for the reasons the Minister has set out. All schemes are involved, and the Opposition amendment places the onus on the individual, whereas the Government’s amendments place the onus on trustees or management, which is a preferable way of proceeding. Does the Minister agree?

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My hon. Friend is right to make that point. The provider will be required to ask members and other beneficiaries looking to access or transfer their pension benefits if they have received either pensions guidance or independent financial advice. If the member indicates that they have not received guidance or advice, the provider will have to recommend that they seek it. The provider will also have to ask the member whether they want to wait while they access guidance or advice, or, crucially, to confirm that they want to proceed without receiving it.

That will do two things from a behavioural nudge perspective—I suspect we will talk about behavioural nudges at great length. First, asking the scheme member if they would like to wait before accessing their pensions benefits so that they can receive guidance will give a clear steer that receiving guidance is the default option. Secondly, asking people to confirm that they want to access their pension without first receiving guidance ensures that the scheme member has to take an active decision to opt out. We believe that that strikes the right balance. It ensures that people are encouraged to take guidance without removing the element of personal choice. It also does not inconvenience those who have already accessed appropriate guidance or independent financial advice.

I could give a number of different quotes, but I will cite Tom Selby, the senior analyst at AJ Bell, who described the original auto guidance idea as weak and said that our proposal represents an improvement. He said:

“Automatically enrolling members into guidance for each transfer or every time they took money from their own pension pot—when they have already decided what they want to do—would have caused massive delayed and huge complaints.”

It was by no means clear, previously, that

“it would have a material impact on the take-up of guidance. It therefore risked being…ineffective.”

He added:

“The new amendment is a vast improvement and, in the short term, should help increase awareness of the importance and value of advice and guidance. It also gives the Financial Conduct Authority breathing room to consult on alternative nudges towards guidance that have been shown by research to be effective.”

The amendments also ensure that the occupational pension schemes that provide flexible benefit are covered—they are not covered by the Work and Pensions Committee’s suggestion—including those in Northern Ireland. Our proposals seek to ensure consistency of approach between personal and stakeholder pension schemes, which are regulated by the FCA, and occupational pension schemes.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I have a point of clarity. Surely a move from recommended guidance to default guidance would result in a higher up-take of independent advice and guidance.

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We are into behavioural economics and nudge theory. In broad terms, imposing greater barriers to force people to do things should in principle get a greater take-up. However, there is a fine line. If we place too many hurdles in the way of the individual, they will not move anything even if it is in their interest, and they simply will not engage with the process. While one may agree or disagree with the concept of pension freedoms and having the ability to choose whether to consolidate pots or access them to do with them whatever one wishes, that freedom is available. One therefore has to be careful because, if there are too many barriers in the way, people simply will not engage with that policy.

No doubt I will soon be passed some very technical note giving a much better answer than I have given, in which case I will be happy to try to expand on it. The principle is that we all want more people to take guidance when they need it. That is the whole concept of the behavioural nudges that we are trying to wrestle with to find the right way forward. I will move on, but if I need to come back to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale in more detail, I will.

We believe that the amendments provide a skeleton on which a nudge can be grafted, and that they provide latitude for the rules and regulations, which should be consulted on as a matter of speed, to set out exactly how the interaction between the scheme and the member will take place, including how the questions and recommendations in individual cases are phrases, so as to make the nudge as effective as possible. Within that framework, the FCA and the Department will, for example, require schemes to provide members with a separate letter expressly recommending that they either take pensions guidance or indicate in writing that they do not want that guidance.

The amendments will also provide scope for the FCA and the Department to update rules on technology and customer needs as they change over time. Again, I could list various organisations that support the Government’s approach, but the Association of British Insurers highlights that

“it is important that any amendment gives the FCA and DWP scope to make rules that will have the desired impact on consumer behaviour and should allow government and the industry to find the right practical solution, having worked through the challenges.”

I cannot overstate that we are all in the same ballpark in desiring pensions guidance to be effective on an ongoing basis, and it is right that the details should be set out speedily and that the rules and regulations should come forward as a matter of urgency.

To summarise, the Government amendments will mean that anyone not taking guidance or advice before accessing their pension benefits will be doing so after being asked explicitly to opt out of receiving it. I accept that the detail is still to be set out. I will make it utterly clear on the Floor of the House.

I have addressed the point on clause 5(2) and set out the numerous ways in which we consider that the Work and Pensions Committee—I revere and respect its great leader and all its members—is wrong in its approach. I should have made the point at the outset that, although I will seek to amend the Bill and will resist any Opposition amendments, I am very happy to go away and assess the nature of the debate and to try to provide more detail on Report and Third Reading. However, for the present purposes, I commend the Government amendments to the Committee and will resist the others.

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With respect, I think the Minister probably underestimates the public’s disengagement with pensions. I sat through many pensions discussions when I worked with Citizens Advice, and also discussions on my own pension, and I stared out the window and wondered when I could stick nails under my fingernails—and I was vaguely interested in the subject.

I praise the work of the Behavioural Insights Team, of which I am a big fan. It is about time we made policy based on what people actually do, rather than what we think they should logically do. It has some interesting analysis. The extent of consumer distrust and disengagement was evident from the trials of the Behavioural Insights Team’s pre-retirement “wake-up” packs last year. Those trials were run in collaboration with Pension Wise, the free pension guidance provider. The packs had a limited impact on the number of customers who subsequently used guidance. The strongest performing wake-up pack increased customers’ likelihood of calling Pension Wise by only 3.5%. Nothing indicates better the impact of disengagement and distrust and the low capability. It is unrealistic to expect customers to absorb the level of information required from provider communications or online contact. The FCA’s retirement outcomes review found that only 10% of customers had even read the pre-retirement wake-up guides, which also indicates why provider signposting is likely to have a limited impact.

Pension providers have exploited that inertia. Three previous investigations into the old annuity market identified low levels of shopping around and poor awareness of the available product options. That is still evident today on a timeline that has been produced, showing attempts since 2001 to make an impact on people’s awareness of pensions.

The FCA retirement outcomes review interim report said:

“We are concerned that consumers motivated by mistrust in pensions”—

I do not think that trust has been increased by such matters as Carillion, the state pension scheme or women of state pension age. It brings distrust of the whole pensions system, whether state pensions, occupational pensions or cash purchase pensions, which make it extremely difficult to understand what will be paid at retirement age.

The report goes on to say that such people

“may be making uninformed decisions that result in paying more tax than they would have paid otherwise…or missing out on the benefits of staying invested”

and that they

“do not always take advantage of the help and guidance”.

People need to take advantage of that before making a decision. It is not like switching bank accounts. People cannot switch pensions for a year and then think, “Actually, I’m not very happy and I want to go back.” It is a long-term decision, and an important one.

Let us stop pretending that the wake-up packs are a legitimate source of information, and not build on them. I am pleased that we will consider measures further, but they need to be strengthened now. New clause 1 does not strengthen anything; it weakens it. Relying on looking at it later is not good enough for something as important as a pension.

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I apologise for my lateness, Chair; there were travel disruptions outwith my control. No discourteousness was intended. I appreciate the Minister saying that he would get in touch with me about my amendment.

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On the hon. Lady’s previous amendment, which we did not get to, I will write to her before Report or Third Reading with a detailed answer.

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I also appreciate the Minister’s honesty in getting straight to the point and saying that he will reject amendments 40 to 41. To return to my point, I think that if we do not strengthen clause 5, it will be a real missed opportunity. The Lords amendment was a welcome move in the right direction—that is why I was quite looking forward to building on it—so it is a disappointment to hear him say that the Government will carry on with this watered-down version.

It seems totally counter-productive if we are now at a stage where we acknowledge as we write policy that people do not understand pensions and they do not have a clue about them, on the whole. That is the gist. People want someone to hold their hand through the process, not ask them, “Have you had advice?” “No, I haven’t.” “Right. Okay, we’ll move on.” The Minister said that the onus would be put on the individual. To me, what the Government are suggesting does put the onus on the individual rather than on an independent body to hold people’s hands and guide them through the process. It seems like a missed opportunity. Forgive me if this is the wrong time, but I will press amendments 40 and 41 to a vote at the appropriate time.

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It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I declare a couple of interests: I am a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. Part of the Chartered Institute of Taxation has a low-income tax reform group, which includes a couple of charities that play a leading role in helping those who are on low pay: TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People. Before my time in Parliament, I was the north Kent volunteer, as a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, for Tax Help for Older People. Often there would be a widow or widower facing consequences that they did not quite know how to deal with, and that would be where the charity came in to help. Obviously, a lot of that work now happens through our surgeries on a weekly basis.

We live in a different world now, with auto-enrolment accumulating very nicely among millions of people across the country. If we are having difficulty today, we will have some very serious money in the future that needs to be dealt with, and people will need appropriate advice. I mentioned on Second Reading that the amounts involved across the country over the next 10, 15 or 20 years could amount to literally hundreds of billions of pounds.

Even without auto-enrolment, there are a number of choices that people need to take on board. Someone may be lucky enough to have a defined-benefits scheme. They are in the descendancy, for many reasons, but I have heard of instances of people who work for banks, in particular, having a defined-benefits scheme. They could be cashing that in, and thinking about a change to a different scheme of up to 50 times the annuity rate. Again, we are talking about very big figures.

People need to make a number of choices at various stages when approaching retirement: whether they should have a defined-contribution pot; whether an annuity is right for them—probably not a decision that many people are making, given the current low interest rates—and whether to change provider. I can see there being hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in a few years’ time who have been using NEST, for instance—the easy provider that many small employers are using—reaching the age of 55 or above and asking themselves, “Well, what now? Would changing to a different provider be better for me? Would a draw-down facility on my pension by best? Should I consider the inheritance tax benefits?” We are now in a new world where pensions are a very generous potential inheritance tax-saving product. They might also ask, “What are the factors of my health?” Health might play a very big part in whether someone wants to take all their income now as a full draw-down, or eek it out into the future. There will be a multitude of choices that people should make. People’s personal tax position should also never be forgotten, so that they take their pension in the most efficient way possible.

I would call this group of amendments, very simply, “the scam blockage and advice enlightenment measures.” They are very welcome and, from what I have seen of the Government’s proposals, I am fully supportive of them. I think they take on board the suggestions of the Work and Pensions Committee. However, I have spoken many times, and remain concerned, about what constitutes advice. I note in new clause 1(1)(d) that the FCA will be entitled to put together rules about what constitutes advice.

I remain concerned that somebody with a smaller pot—perhaps a pot of £30,000, which will be a very common position for many people to be in under auto-enrolment in the future—may get involved with SFGB and take the full advice. They will be told, “These options are available to you.” However, I do not think that the legislation provides for advising people what the best provider and tax situation is for them. It is still hoped in new clause 1, as good as it is, that people go and get advice. That advice is simply not available in the market because independent financial advisers will look at a small pot and say, “Well, for the fees involved, I don’t really want to take you on.”

I have spent considerable time pushing for flexibility under FCA rules to allow people to see an IFA on almost a no-liability basis. Instead of the IFA having to do a full “know your client” assessment, which takes a long time and costs a lot of money, I propose an appointment with no liability on the IFA’s part. That would at least give people some help and guidance, which is infinitely better than none.

That point leads me to the role of organisations that work closely with people, such as citizens advice bureaux, Age UK, TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People. Those organisations are trusted by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs as semi-agents, as it were. As advisers working for free, they should be able to get involved with people’s affairs without going through the whole rigmarole of engagement letters and liability. There is a case to be made that some of those institutions accepted by HMRC, such as Tax Help for Older People and specialists within Age UK and citizens advice bureaux, should be able to tick the box to say, “Yes, guidance has been given, we have had an assessment, and it is now safe to proceed under Government new clause 1.”

That is a very broad interpretation of where we are. I am not sure how we can put it into the Bill on Report, but it relates to an issue that I will continue to raise throughout my time in Parliament: people need advice. Allowing advice on the basis of no liability for the advisers would at least mean advice being given where none is given at the moment.

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This has been a good debate, with some powerful contributions. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for South Thanet on the scale of some of the problems. Those include some welcome problems with auto-enrolment, but also situations in which people with their backs against the wall are being taken advantage of. The sheer scale is immense, so it is hugely important to get this right. As the hon. Gentleman said so compellingly, it is crucial that we should be confident that the mechanism for default guidance is robust and will work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield made a typically powerful and well informed contribution. A provider recently spoke to me about “pension ignorance”—I am not sure that I would quite use those words, because they sound a wee bit insulting, but I know what he meant. There is a lack of knowledge about pension entitlements, because pensions are very often seen as being in the distance. My hon. Friend was absolutely right to raise that point. As I argued earlier, neither the take-up of currently available advice nor the trials to improve take-up inspire us to believe that the Government have got it right yet.

The Minister described our amendment as the Labour amendment, which of course it is—we tabled it. However, I dare to say that it was the product of the Work and Pensions Committee, working on a cross-party basis—a collective wisdom with which we agree. The Minister’s point about the importance of looking at pensions in the round is correct, because we are looking at the totality of pension arrangements for the future. He said, with good intent, that there would be a speedy process to consider regulations at a future stage. The problem is that we have to get it right when we specify in the Bill what the expectations of Parliament are.

Let us compare the Government’s proposals with the status quo. Interesting work has been done to compare the FCA’s conduct of business sourcebook—COBS—with Government new clause 1. It would seem that the Government have not moved as far as they should have, so it is important that we get this crucial issue right in the Bill. Of course the Minister is right when he says that circumstances vary enormously, but we strongly believe that there is an absolute principle that must be enshrined in law. Crucially, it is not about erecting barriers. On the contrary, we want to help people to make their decision and ensure that they have access to the advice and guidance necessary when they come to make that decision.

The wording proposed is not yet good enough. Ultimately, we seek an outcome in the Bill that puts it beyond any doubt that the individual can be shown to have made a conscious decision and to have decided not to access that guidance. The Minister has referred to a nudge, which has its place but, frankly, a nudge alone, in the traditional sense of the word, is not enough at this stage. We need a strong statutory obligation and entitlement. I stress again that the consequences of what happens if things go badly wrong are heartbreaking. We have all seen it. That is why there is a determination across the House to ensure that some of the abuses of the past are not carried forward. For that to be the case, we need strong and unambiguous law.

The Minister has said that the Bill is a skeleton that we can put flesh on the bones of. The hon. Member for South Thanet made the point, which I understand, that this will be a significant issue on Report. To be frank, there is no flesh on these bones to show what needs to be done at the next stage. I hope that the Minister will listen not only to us and to the Work and Pensions Committee, but to the widespread expressions of people who are reputable in a vast industry—of course, there are people to the contrary, but they are not particularly fazed by what we propose—who recognise the importance of what we are arguing. I hope that the Minister will hear their voices as well as ours.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 2

1 February 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 6
Noes: 8

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

Amendment made: 2, in clause 5, page 4, line 13, leave out subsection (2).—(Guy Opperman.)

This amendment removes subsection (2) of clause 5 (inserted by the Lords), which required the FCA to make rules requiring trustees or managers of personal and stakeholder pension schemes to ask whether members have received guidance before accessing or transferring their pension. This duty is developed in the new clauses inserted by NC1 and NC2.

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Delegation of functions to delivery partner organisations

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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In the circumstances, I am delighted to say that I do not believe this clause is controversial.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Debt respite scheme: advice to the Secretary of State

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I beg to move amendment 34, in clause 7, page 5, line 24, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) The Secretary of State must, within the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act comes into force, introduce a debt respite scheme.”

This amendment will require the Secretary of State to set up a debt respite scheme within 6 months of this Act coming into force.

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With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Amendment 35, in clause 7, page 5, line 35, leave out subsections (3) to (5).

This amendment is consequential to Amendment 34.

Clauses 7 and 8 stand part.

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The amendment would require the Secretary of State to set up a debt respite scheme within six months of the Bill coming into force.

A “breathing space” is a scheme that stops debts from increasing by freezing interest and charges, and halting enforcement action, allowing families the time and space they need to get back on their feet. This morning I told the story of a victim of domestic violence who fled and then got herself into a downward spiral of debt. She said: “I borrowed to pay my debts. I then had to borrow to pay my debts. I then had to borrow to pay my debts.” What she would have greatly enjoyed, if it had been in operation at the time, is a breathing space to halt the downward spiral and allow her to sort out her finances, and indeed her life and the lives of her children.

While we welcome the fact that the Government have committed to a debt respite scheme with the introduction of the new body, those vulnerable people who are stuck in a cycle of problem debt cannot afford to wait. A debt respite scheme gives people who are suffering from debt problems the breathing space to stabilise their financial situation and get on a more stable footing.

One survey showed that 60% of people said that their financial situation had stabilised once all of their creditors agreed to freeze further interest charges and enforcement action. In a world where credit is easier to access than ever before, it is all the more likely that some will fall into problems with debt. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that these people are not left to suffer alone, and that they receive the support and guidance they need to climb back out of the downward spiral of debt.

StepChange, a debt charity, has estimated the wider social costs of current debt problems to be £8.3 billion. Currently, 2.9 million households are at crisis point with severe, unmanageable debt problems. Some 21 million people are struggling with their bills; 18 million people are worried about making their income last until payday; and research by the Money Advice Service found that, for nearly 9 million people, financial difficulty had progressed to more serious and persistent arrears, with bills and debts described as an ever more heavy burden.

Debt has wider social effects. StepChange polled its clients. Seventy-four per cent. said that debt had affected their sleep patterns; 43% said that debt worries left them unable to concentrate at work; 6% said it caused changes to work attendance, such as arriving late or taking more time off; and 2% said that it led to them losing their job. If that evidence was scaled up, it would point to 2.9 million people with severe debt problems, which potentially means nearly 60,000 people out of work as a result of problem debt.

In addition, 57% of indebted parents said debt put their current or most recent relationship under strain. Some 7% said their relationship actually broke up because of debt, and children in households experiencing debt problems were more than twice as likely to say they had been bullied at school.

I am sure that every member of the Committee has personal experience of heartbreaking cases in their constituencies where people are immersed in debt, and of the price they pay and how they suffer. Crucially, debt respite gives them the time and opportunity to sort their lives out. I know that the Minister agrees in principle and that there is common ground across the House that a debt respite scheme should be established, but it is a question of how quickly that can be made to happen. It is our strong view that it ought to be achievable within six months of the Bill becoming law.

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that rushing a scheme could impact the effectiveness of debt respite? Although I completely agree with everything he said about the problems that can be incurred via debt, it is important to get this crucial element of the Bill correct and to liaise with organisations such as StepChange and the others he mentioned.

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is important that we get this right at the next stages of the Bill. I do not disagree for one moment. Having said that, let me distinguish between two things. Making substantial changes to the machinery of government to deliver a new function willed by Parliament can take a long time, so the SFGB probably will not be operational until May 2019. I understand that. However, it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to send an unambiguous message now, on the face of the Bill, to those who are responsible for unreasonable pressure being put on people in debt that they are not allowed to do so. Introducing that within six months of the Bill becoming law is eminently achievable.

I stress again that I am the first to recognise that great change sometimes takes time to implement, but to be frank, given the times we are living through, I do not want people who could get respite to spend another six months not getting it. There is no good reason not to give them respite. As I said when we started this morning, we want to strengthen a good Bill, and inject into it a greater sense of urgency as appropriate.

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I thank the Minister for his letter about breathing space and the other issues, but it gave me another question for him. He mentioned a six-week breathing space period. I have said this many times: please, please talk to debt advisers. Six weeks is really not enough time.

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I appreciate the point the hon. Lady is about to make, because I heard her make it in the Chamber the other day, but does she acknowledge that the six-week breathing space in Scotland has been effective? That is an interesting example of effective legislation coming out of the Scottish Parliament. Although a longer breathing space may be preferable, six weeks has been shown to be effective up there.

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It may have been shown to be effective, but it has not been shown to be the right amount of time. The average debt in Scotland takes four months to handle, so six weeks is not the right amount of time. People have regularly asked for extensions to the six weeks.

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To re-emphasise the point—I promise not to come back on it again—that the six-week breathing space in Scotland has led to a reduction in bankruptcies. It has been successful in that respect. It is wrong to suggest that six weeks is wholly inadequate.

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The number of bankruptcies is not the issue; they are actually quite rare. A very small proportion of the people who go to debt organisations are made bankrupt. It takes most people with the average amount of consumer debt four to six months to deal with it. Those are not people who would ever have looked at bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is not appropriate for them and would not even be considered.

The average number of consumer debts is rising, and creditors are slow at responding. People often forget to bring in a debt, and so they have to write to all the creditors and redo the statements. Six weeks is just about better than nothing, but I would say, from my long experience of dealing with debts, that four months is probably the minimum. We want to prevent creditors from delaying it until the six weeks is over and people have to go for extensions, which may or may not be granted. Some creditors—I have to be honest—delay it simply so they are not part of the solution.

Although I still think the length of time is inadequate, I welcome the proposal for a breathing space. Another issue with the length of time is that it is very difficult for people who suffer from depression or low-level mental health problems to make regular appointments, and they are often asked to come in all the time to deal with their debt. That needs to be taken into account. I welcome the move, but please do not be wedded to six weeks.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to participate in this stage of the process. I feel a bit like poacher turned gamekeeper, given that I was a member of the Work and Pensions Committee a few years ago when many of these matters were discussed. I remember having long discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South. It is still a matter of great sadness that I have not been to Paisley.

Amendments 34 and 35 would require the Government to implement a breathing space scheme within six months of the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent. It is legitimate to press that point, because everybody on this Committee—this was striking on Second Reading—is concerned and feels a sense of urgency. Before I became a Minister, I spent time working with Members of other parties on the all-party group on hunger and food poverty. I visited South Shields and saw at first hand, in a community that is very different from mine in Salisbury, the distress that debt can cause. Now that I am a Minister and in a position to do something, I am extremely focused on ensuring that this happens.

Members of all parties agree that creating a breathing space scheme will have significant benefits for thousands of the most vulnerable families. However, it will need to be designed properly and implemented in partnership with the debt advice sector and creditors. Creating a scheme will ensure that vulnerable consumers have time to assess their financial situation and begin to deal with their debts. The Government are committed to establishing a scheme as quickly and effectively as possible, including through the passage of the Bill. I am pleased that clauses 7 and 8 provide for the scheme’s introduction, but it is worth acknowledging how complex some of these situations are and how complex the scheme may need to be. It includes both a breathing space and a statutory debt management plan. It involves significant co-operation among creditors, debt advisers and those accessing a breathing space, who in many cases could be leading chaotic lives.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Makerfield on Second Reading. I always have great respect for her when she speaks in the House. Today she talked about needing four months, and on Second Reading she talked about needing six months. She cited an example of somebody who may think they have all their debts lined up, and then another materialises later on. Those are the sort of complex situations that we need to come to terms with in the design of the scheme. There are significant questions about how debtors can access the scheme, which debts are included, how flexible the scheme can be, and how it ties in with existing statutory debt solutions.

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What does the Minister mean by “as quickly and as effectively as possible”? Would he give us a timeframe?

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I will come to that point and will be as explicit as I can, giving an indicative timeframe.

The scheme needs to be properly designed with consultation with experts in the debt advice and creditor sectors. That is key to ensuring that it works in practice and properly benefits the lives of the vulnerable people that we all want it to support.

The Government are clear that it will not be possible to conclude that process within six months of Royal Assent, which is what the amendment would require. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Makerfield that we must work quickly to establish the scheme, given the benefits it could bring to indebted individuals. To that extent, the Government have set out a clear timeline for the implementation of breathing space.

My officials are currently working hard to analyse responses to the Government’s call for evidence on the scheme, which closed on 16 January. Following that process, we will consult on a single policy design proposal this summer. In tandem, we will ask the new body for advice on specific aspects of the scheme that it is well placed to advise on, to ensure the scheme is rolled out smoothly and embedded in the practices of the debt advice and creditor sectors. We will seek that advice immediately after the body is established, and it will be very tightly framed to ensure that the process does not delay the scheme’s introduction.

Throughout the period, my officials will be drafting regulations to introduce the scheme and I can confirm that they will be laid as soon as possible in 2019. I feel the frustration of Members on, I suspect, both sides of the Committee. All I can say is that I will be doing everything I can and will be working very closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, to make sure that we do this as quickly as possible.

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As one of those people who are feeling the frustration with the 2019 date, why do we have to wait for the establishment of this body when all the debt charities and most of the creditors have been pressing for a breathing space under the old system? Why do we have to wait for the new body to do that?

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I acknowledge the problem, but having taken the trouble to move three entities into one single body and to make it an authoritative place for people to go to for reliable advice across different elements, it would be appropriate, given how central the debt problem is, for it to have a meaningful contribution to establishing the parameters of the scheme. That seems consistent with the objectives that we have set out and discussed, although I acknowledge the wide—although not complete —consensus.

I will reflect on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar about the Scottish experience. It is interesting and instructive that that has iterated quite significantly over time over many years, albeit with a significantly smaller cohort of just 2,000 people. That tells us that lessons have to be learned through experience of work on the ground. I am extremely anxious that we get the best possible scheme designed by the time the process is concluded. This process balances speed with getting the policy right.

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I would also mention the independent review of the debt advice provision. It concluded very speedily. It was a very short process, and concluded over the Christmas period, in January. Will the recommendations in that have to wait to 2019 to be implemented? Some of them seem extremely sensible.

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. I am aware of that report, which came through on 25 January. I have seen a summary of its recommendations. Officials are looking at it and I will be dealing with it as quickly as I can. I was assisted with typical helpfulness from colleagues on the House of Lords stipulation. The House of Lords was very keen that the new body should have input into the formulation of the scheme and the respite period—that is worthy of consideration.

I have explained why we cannot accept the amendment. I cannot emphasise enough that requiring the scheme to be set up before the end of the year would risk the scheme not working for consumers or not being utilised by the sector in the optimal way. The scheme was a key manifesto commitment that we are working on apace, but it is too important a policy to be rushed through, as the amendment proposes. I am extremely focused on the policy. Given my experience, I have set out that it is one of the most important things that I will do in my time in office. I am committed to seeing it through. I hope that Members are reassured by that and that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington will withdraw the amendment.

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The Minister speaks with obvious sincerity, which is welcome. As has repeatedly come up in our proceedings today, whether our experience is from our constituency or otherwise, we have all seen the price that people pay as they sink ever more deeply into debt. I do not mind admitting that there was one particular case—it is not appropriate to go into the details—where, when my constituent walked out the room, I was in tears because of what had happened to her. Her life was in a downward spiral. There is common ground and obvious sincerity, so the Government should act.

We will not push the amendment to a vote, but I suggest that the Government reflect further and come back on Report with the best possible timescale for implementation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield: we should not necessarily have to await the formation of the new body. The scheme is a related matter to the function of the body—of that there is no doubt—but we have seen experiences such as the arrangements in Scotland. We also have the collective wisdom of the discussions in the sector and in the House of Lords. Everyone is determined to get it right. We just do not think that the scheme should be introduced a year beyond the Bill coming into effect in three or four months’ time. We would be talking about it being a year and a half before we ultimately see this welcome mechanism introduced.

In not pushing the amendment to a vote at this stage, I ask the Government to reflect further and come back on Report on two things. First, we want clarity on what the Government think is necessary. The Minister has gone a long way towards that. We want clarity about how one goes about arriving at the default scheme. That relates to the mechanisms and who should be engaged. The Minister has referred to that already. Secondly, we want the quickest possible timescale to get the scheme introduced. If the Minister will respond accordingly on Report, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.

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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman indicating that he will withdraw the amendment. I observed closely what he said on clarity on the default scheme and having the quickest mechanism possible to bring it forward. I will reflect with my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and provide an update on Report.

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I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Guidance and directions from the Secretary of State

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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The clause gives the power to give guidance to the single financial guidance body and directions specifically on the way it exercises its functions. I do not believe that it is contentions.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Setting standards

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 11 stand part.

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I will briefly address the matter of the standards, which the clause will require the single financial guidance body to set out, and their enforcement and monitoring. The clause will require the FCA to review those standards and how the body is monitoring and enforcing those standards. We believe that is appropriate in the circumstances, and that we are creating this body with a degree of scrutiny in the right and proper way.

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We rehearsed this morning the importance of the independence of the body, in terms of its operational role, on the one hand. On the other hand, there is common ground that there should be proper accountability and oversight. We are content with the proposed arrangements.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Financial assistance from the Secretary of State

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I beg to move amendment 36, in clause 12, page 8, line 10, leave out from “State” to “financial” and insert “must provide”.

This amendment proposes to adjust Clause 12(2) to strengthen the provisions on financial assistance from the Secretary of State related to the operation of the SFGB

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With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

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The amendment proposes to adjust clause 12 to strengthen the provisions on financial assistance from the Secretary of State related to the operation of the single financial guidance body. The intention of the new body is to increase the number of people who receive financial guidance and advice—indeed, the ambition is to greatly increase it. This function is key to increasing financial awareness, education and inclusion across the country.

While the current services provided by the three bodies to be merged are greatly valued and appreciated by those who use them, I think there is common ground that they are not used enough. A primary function of the new body needs to be to increase take-up of the services it offers. For example, take-up of the services offered by Pension Wise is extremely low. The latest figures from HM Revenue and Customs show that some 772,000 people withdrew more than £6.5 billion from their pension pots in 2017. However, only 66,000 appointments were made with Pension Wise in 2016-17—approximately 8.5% of people.

An FCA survey found that one in eight 55 to 64-year-olds who planned to retire in the next two years and who have a defined contribution pension had used the Pension Wise service in a 12-month period. The FCA also found that 25% of pension transfers are withdrawing all, or virtually all, of the pension, with 19% withdrawing virtually all and 6% withdrawing all. What plan do the Government have for those who have withdrawn all their pension and may end up with nothing later in life? They may end up falling into the arms of the taxpayer, and the Government need to prepare for that.

While traffic to Pension Wise’s website is quite high, it is not a sufficient substitute for access to tailored and personal advice. Also, many of those looking for advice may not be completely digitally aware. As Baroness Altmann said in the other place,

“When you introduce pension freedom into a marketplace that has never really been encouraged to engage with pensions and mostly does not understand much about them, obviously you need an expert to help you.”

NEST has said that it is concerned

“that people appear to be making decisions based solely on a read of the Pension Wise website”.

If those looking to transfer their pension are only accessing the Pension Wise website, it means that they will not get the tailored specialist advice that they need at such a time. We must therefore ensure that as many as possible of the 772,000 people who take advantage of their pension freedoms every year receive the guidance that they need to make informed and reasoned decisions about what are usually large sums of money.

For this reason, having set out why this body matters and the scale of likely demand at the next stages, we are surprised that the Government, from some of the things that they have said, appear to expect to make a financial saving from the formation of the new body. The Government’s impact assessment states:

“One structure replacing three will reduce cost of guidance provision, releasing funds through these efficiencies…savings could be used to reduce the levies that industry pay to finance the government’s guidance provision.”

With the greatest respect, that is the last thing that should happen. We do not believe that the Government should use the formation of the new body to make savings and pass them on as reductions in the amount paid by the industry to finance the body. The industry has a responsibility to finance the body adequately through the levy system. The industry and the Government should use the efficiencies created by the new structure, as well as additional money in grants and levies, as appropriate, to drastically increase the services provided. In our view, that is essential to the success of the SFGB if it is to deliver the complete guidance service that people need.

I had a fascinating discussion earlier this week with the chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service, and she referred to the extraordinary statistics on TPAS’s work and the take-up of it. She made the point, absolutely rightly, that more could be done with existing resources and economies of scale from bringing together the three organisations, but she went on to make the compelling point that so great is the likely demand at the next stages that much more will need to be done to finance the new body. Inescapably, unless it is properly resourced, the new body will not be able to discharge the functions that will fall upon it.

The chief executive gave some examples. She made the point again about not duplicating work done by other areas of Government such as research, and said that, in TPAS’s experience, some things that are key to the services that it provides include, of course, the dashboard and the website, but also face-to-face guidance, which is crucial time and again. She talked about the specialisms necessary to help and inform decisions about options, saying that we should not dumb things down by having people give guidance by just reading off a list. She said that an advertising programme ought to be part of what the Government do, and that it could be done in a number of different ways. She also spoke about what I call the Carillion capacity—the capacity to respond at a time of crisis—as well the promotion of financial public awareness, which we debated earlier.

In conclusion, we hope for a statement from the Government that makes the point that the purpose of the new body is not to save money but to provide the kind of service that all people in all circumstances ought to be able to count on. The industry must play its part, but Government must be unambiguous that the body will be properly and fully resourced.

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Can I answer the point raised directly? It is absolutely the case that merging three bodies and having one building rather than three will create some degree of potential cost efficiencies, but we are absolutely of the view that those efficiencies should then be directed into frontline services. I can unequivocally give that assurance to the Committee.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the original response to the consultation. It is true that there is an expectation that rationalising the provision will create some operational efficiencies. One would expect that. However, that same response made it very clear that the intention was for any savings to be channelled to frontline delivery of debt advice, and money and pensions guidance. I could not be any clearer on that in any way whatsoever.

I manifestly want to make that point, but I also disagree that there will be an insufficiency of funding, and the reason for that, it seems to me, is threefold. First, this is effectively not taxpayer-funded; it is done by a levy. The levy is a moveable feast, depending upon the need identified by the individual organisation, and it is something that can be assessed and increased on an ongoing basis, to provide the service that, it seems to me, we all wish to ensure is there. Secondly, there is capacity to top up the levy, should the Secretary of State wish to do so, and the financial guidance body on an ongoing basis, and that additional funding can be provided.

The proposed amendment has the bizarre, counter- intuitive effect of removing the discretionary nature of the financial assistance that the Secretary of State can provide. I simply make the point that while we are keen to ensure that this body is run more efficiently, in terms of amalgamating most probably into the High Holborn offices of the Money Advice Service, we certainly believe that this is something the levy will be able to fund, and if it is the case that this expands the provision—the House of Lords seems to have done so and this House may do so as well—then the levy may go up to accommodate the need as has been described. With those assurances, I respectfully ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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The assurance that this is not a cost-saving measure is very welcome, but I stress again: is there an economy of scale? Are there possibilities, for example, of freeing up, by locating in one location, which is very likely to be the case? All of that is absolutely true, but right at the start, as we go down this path, to see a welcome mechanism created, we need to be confident, and to send a message to the people out there that they can be confident, that the new organisation will be effective, dynamic and properly resourced. Therefore, on the basis of the assurances given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 13 to 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3

Minor and consequential amendments relating to Part 1

Amendment made: 19, in schedule 3, page 34, line 22, leave out paragraph 13—(Guy Opperman.)

This amendment removes the amendment to s.137FB of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 in the Schedule 3 which was needed in consequence of the Bill, because this is now dealt with in the new clause inserted by NC1.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 21 to 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Amanda Milling.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 6 February at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

FGCB 01 The Claims Guys

FGCB 02 John Lamidey MBE

FGCB 03 Equity Release Council

FGCB 04 Gary Nixon

FGCB 05 Jon Platt, Managing Director, JMP Partnership (IW) Ltd

FGCB 06 Frankly Hughes Limited

FGCB 07 Low Incomes Tax Reform Group

FGCB 08 Just Group

FGCB 09 ABTA - The Travel Association

FGCB 10 Consumer Finance Association (CFA)

FGCB 11 Fair Telecoms Campaign

FGCB 12 Lloyds Banking Group

FGCB 13 Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL)

FGCB 14 Age UK

FGCB 15 BlackLion Law LLP

FGCB 16 Alliance of Claims Companies

FGCB 17 Macmillan Cancer Support

FGCB 18 Association of British Insurers (ABI)

Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Philip Davies, Joan Ryan, James Gray, Sir David Crausby

† Badenoch, Mrs Kemi (Saffron Walden) (Con)

† Bardell, Hannah (Livingston) (SNP)

† Brown, Alan (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

† Cummins, Judith (Bradford South) (Lab)

† Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)

† Gardiner, Barry (Brent North) (Lab)

† Hands, Greg (Minister for Trade Policy)

Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)

† Keegan, Gillian (Chichester) (Con)

† McMorrin, Anna (Cardiff North) (Lab)

† Prisk, Mr Mark (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)

† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

† Rashid, Faisal (Warrington South) (Lab)

Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)

† Vickers, Martin (Cleethorpes) (Con)

† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

† Whittaker, Craig (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Wood, Mike (Dudley South) (Con)

Kenneth Fox, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 1 February 2018

[Philip Davies in the Chair]

Trade Bill

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We resume line-by-line consideration of the Bill. Proceedings must finish by 2 pm. The selection list for the sitting is available in the room.

New Clause 10

HMRC: impact

“No later than 12 months after this Act has come into force, the Secretary of State shall lay a report before Parliament on the impact of the provisions of sections 7 and 8 of this Act on the expenditure and staffing of HMRC.”—(Alan Brown.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament on the impact of Part 3 of this Act on the expenditure and staffing of HMRC.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I will try to assist the Committee with concluding proceedings before 2 pm.

The new clause is all about the Bill’s impact on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The history so far is that, instead of taking back control, the Brexit process appears to be an interdepartmental bun fight for resources, both cash and human. Right now, there is a Brexit gravy train for consultants, and experts are suddenly back in demand. That was confirmed by the Chancellor, when in the autumn Budget he allocated a further £3 billion over the next two years to Brexit preparations.

Brexit will cause an unprecedented rise in workload for HMRC, whatever customs and tariff arrangements are made. In addition, goods traded with the EU will need to be accounted for as international exports. That is all happening at a time when, as all Members know, the Tory Government are slashing staff and closing HMRC offices across the nations of the UK.

At the same time, HMRC is launching a new customs declaration service, starting in August 2018, with the intention that it will be implemented in full by January 2019. That will replace the customs handling of import and export freight system, which is nearly 25 years old and cannot be easily adapted to new requirements. I think everyone on the Committee will be cynical about that—who has ever heard of a massive IT project that goes live on time and is easily adaptable to suit future processes?

There are serious concerns about whether the system can be put in place properly just a few months before Brexit, given that customs declarations are expected to more than triple once the UK leaves the EU. The National Audit Office has said that the number of customs declarations could increase from 55 million to 255 million if tax and duties must be collected on trade between the UK and EU.

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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that what we have seen across the UK, including from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, is huge criticism of the UK Government’s change programme? In my constituency, they want to centralise the Livingston HMRC office to Edinburgh. There will be a devastating impact on communities and the continuity of services will be impacted just a moment before these other plans take place. The Government should rethink the process wholesale.

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It will come as no surprise that I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The closing of HMRC offices is yet another example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing and of a complete lack of strategic thinking.

Jon Thompson, the chief executive of HMRC, has warned that border and tax checks post-Brexit could require an additional 5,000 staff, with new customs checks costing the taxpayer up to £800 million. Given the uncertainty about future customs arrangements, the fact that HMRC is already undertaking a system overhaul, that the number of declarations could increase fourfold and that transitional arrangements are still unknown, it makes complete sense to assess the impact on HMRC, which is responsible for the taxing and checking of trade that will arise from the Bill.

The new clause would allow for greater parliamentary scrutiny and force an internal departmental impact assessment. This week alone has shown that it takes much effort to force the Government’s hand on impact assessments and for them to be up front about what the impact of Brexit will be. That is why I move the new clause.

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Welcome back to the Chair, Mr Davies.

May I say how much I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun? The impact of HMRC closures, which the hon. Member for Livingston mentioned, on communities and on those losing their jobs was well stated. The same is true of my constituency, with the closures in Bootle and Liverpool.

The Minister advised the Committee in an earlier sitting that

“the resources given to HMRC post Brexit to deal with Brexit are already there.”

He also said that

“the power has been assessed and its likely cost looked at. It has been deemed to be relatively inexpensive and overall will not add a cost burden on HMRC.”––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 30 January 2018; c. 261.]

I therefore trust that Government Members will support the new clause, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said. The Opposition will support it.

Of course, the Minister may well see fit to release the cost analysis he referred to in order to allay not only our concerns but those of the business community about the impact of additional duties on HMRC, given the significant task it faces in preparing for Brexit and in the light of the up to 40% cuts in staffing levels it has faced over recent years. The Minister referred to funding that has been made available to HMRC to support its preparedness to be Brexit ready. Will he tell us what that funding is, or confirm that it is the £250 million that the Government have made available to the cross-departmental and inter-agency border planning group?

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Does my hon. Friend share my concern that HMRC is already significantly understaffed? There have been widespread complaints over the last two years about poor customer service and the closure of hundreds of offices across the country.

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Absolutely. I know that many of my hon. Friend’s constituents in Warrington are affected by those closures. We clearly cannot on the one hand see cutbacks, and on the other hand expect an expansion of HMRC’s work commitments.

The Public Accounts Committee recently published its report, following an inquiry into our Brexit readiness, in respect of the border planning group. It raised concerns that

“HM Treasury’s usual business model is inadequate for allocating Brexit funding to departments who are forced to operate together, at pace, to a hard deadline.”

That seems pretty clear to me. When giving evidence to that Committee, representatives of the relevant bodies on the border planning group explained that funding was released on a case-by-case basis, and demonstrated that much of the funding had yet to be drawn down.

HMRC is still wrangling with HM Treasury over a £7.3 million drawdown to cover upgrades to the CHIEF customs system—I think that is what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun was referring to—in order to level up functionality. HMRC also told the Committee that it was not expecting any shift in the risk profile of goods coming into the UK from the EU, and that it had “no evidence to suggest” that there would be increased trade flows with non-EU countries after Brexit. Will the Minister confirm whether his Department’s assessment matches that of HMRC, and that our standards and regulations will match entirely those of the EU, such that the risk profile of goods in or out remains the same?

HMRC has planned operating resources for no change after we leave the EU, per the evidence it gave to the PAC. Will the Minister confirm that it is Government policy for there to be no change in the regulations? Will he also confirm whether HMRC was right to say that there is “no evidence to suggest” that there will be increased trade flows with non-EU countries after Brexit? He is looking at me with a puzzled look, as he often does.

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Don’t take it personally.

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I was not taking it personally. I have seen him with that puzzled look on many occasions, not just when I am speaking—often it is in response to comments from those his own side.

If the Department for International Trade has any purpose, it is surely to absolutely change the volume of trade after Brexit. That, in turn, suggests that HMRC was not right to say that there would be no changes in trade flows. It also suggests that HMRC is significantly under-resourced, which is more to the point, if it is operating on a no-change assumption. HMRC’s new customs declarations service is geared up for a fivefold increase in customs processing once we leave the EU. Surely the Minister accepts that that is likely to put severe strain on HMRC’s capacity and significant strain on its resourcing.

What the Government and HMRC have said appears to be at odds when it comes to standards and regulations, and whether they will match—especially the comment about there being “no evidence” of increased trade flows. [Interruption.] I thought that the hon. Member for Livingston was trying to intervene, but she is not.

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I will give my hon. Friend a rest. Does he share my concern that if HMRC is not adequately resourced to collect and disseminate data in relation to our exports, placing any additional burdens on businesses to furnish that information is entirely unhelpful?

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Absolutely. We made that point earlier in our proceedings and my hon. Friend makes it extremely well.

Coming back to what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said, HMRC has suggested to the Public Accounts Committee that it will need 3,000 to 5,000 extra staff to perform effectively post-Brexit, but that will depend on the level of risk that Ministers are willing to take. The Public Accounts Committee received written evidence suggesting:

“There are very few International Trade businesses, both importers and exporters, who take Customs compliance seriously”

and that businesses need more support from HMRC to deal with post-Brexit requirements.

If that is the case, clearly a voluntary information disclosure, which the Minister has assured us the Trade Bill makes provision for, would be entirely futile as a means of gathering the information his Department requires. I note, as I did on an earlier occasion, that the Bill does not suggest that it is voluntary, and we are not aware of any business that would ever consider a request from HMRC to be voluntary in nature. The second point—that businesses require more support from HMRC to deal with post-Brexit requirements—is more telling; it further suggests that there will be a significant strain on HMRC’s resources if it is to carry out its existing functions, let alone carry out new ones.

If those new functions are subject to voluntary application, will they also be subject to voluntary roll-out from HMRC? In that case, perhaps there will be nothing to report in 12 months’ time. The additional burdens being placed on civil servants to prepare for Brexit are significant, and with limited resources being made available to support those endeavours, we are right to be concerned about the ongoing operability of HMRC, and indeed other public bodies. That is why we shall support the new clause.

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Very briefly, I commend the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun for tabling the new clause.

We have seen in recent days that the Government are usually reluctant to release any impact assessments or reports of any substance, for fear that they will prejudice negotiations and put the Government in the most awkward position. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take heart from the fact that it is now usual for the Government, 24 hours after saying that they will not publish a report, to decide that they will do so anyway. I confidently expect the Minister to stand up and say that those on the Government Benches cannot support the new clause—we will support it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central said—but the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun should not worry or be discouraged, because I have no doubt that within 24 hours, the Government will see sense.

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Welcome back to the Chair, Mr Davies; it is a pleasure to serve under you, as ever.

Clause 7, as we know because we debated it at length on Tuesday, sets out the powers that are needed for the Government to collect data to establish the number and identity of UK businesses exporting goods and services. Clause 8, in turn, sets out the powers that are needed for HMRC to share data with the Department for International Trade and other Departments and organisations in order for those bodies to carry out their public functions in relation to trade. Any trade information collected or shared by the Government under clauses 7 and 8 will come at minimal cost to business and the taxpayer—I will go into a bit more detail in a moment—and will be below the threshold needed for an impact assessment and review.

To deal with some of the points raised in the debate, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun asked about the impact on HMRC. I can confirm that HMRC will not require additional staff or resources for this function as a result of the data provision in the Trade Bill. From what the hon. Members for Sefton Central and for Brent North said, it sounded as if they are going to vote for the new clause. The different Opposition parties seem to be attacking the issue from different angles. Although the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said that too much resource is going to some places—I think that he called it the “Brexit gravy train”—the hon. Member for Sefton Central seemed to say that resources were too limited. However, I think that they are both coalescing around voting for the new clause.

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To clarify, I was talking about the Brexit process as a whole. It is certainly a gravy train for consultants, because the Government do not have the expertise in house.

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Well, I guess we will leave it at that. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s intervention to clarify precisely what he meant by the “Brexit gravy train”, but let us look at the truth.

The truth is that collecting the data will involve minimal cost to Government and business. The cost will certainly be below the level at which an impact assessment must be published, which is £1 million. I do not know what the cost of the hon. Gentleman’s assessment might be, by contrast, but the cost of the provision in the Bill will be less than £1 million. The Regulatory Policy Committee confirmed to my Department during the course of our analysis that no impact assessment was therefore needed, due to the low costs associated with the provision.

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Does the Minister accept the interpretation that businesses will need additional support and that that is what is being proposed? HMRC will need additional capacity to help small businesses. Given that the Government and the Secretary of State are determined that businesses will look for new markets to diversify, those businesses will have a lot to do, so we need to give them as much assistance as possible.

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I agree, which is why we have made additional resources available for HMRC. We recognise that it will require additional staff, and that is being discussed. However, that does not relate to this Bill and this power. That is the most important thing to realise. The hon. Gentleman’s points about the generic nature of HMRC are well made, but my point is that this power will be introduced at minimal cost and will not affect the overall equation. The point that he raised about additional resources being needed for HMRC overall is not in dispute.

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The Minister is being most generous. My point was that the report that we are requesting would help us to better understand the implications for HMRC.

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I do not think that that is necessary. The work that has been done shows that the cost would be less than £1 million. The new clause is all about trying to work out the cost of this particular measure, not about the wider implications for HMRC.

The hon. Member for Sefton Central asked whether this is a futile exercise. I say to him that we will be able to target support directly and ensure that UK business is at the forefront of post-Brexit opportunities, thanks to the data that this provision may well realise.

Finally, I remind the Committee that the Government currently do not collect any export data at all from about 4 million UK businesses. Our analysis elsewhere suggests that about 300,000 businesses in the UK could and should export but do not. We need this limited data collection and sharing power to be able to find and help them. I therefore urge the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun to withdraw the new clause.

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I listened to what the Minister said. Clearly, if we stick to the existing trade agreements, nothing will change and everything will be much the same. Although there may be a logic to that, I will press the new clause to a vote because it would allow the Government to print an impact assessment that shows that nothing will change, that everything will be okay and that there will be no impact on HMRC. I would have thought that the Government would be happy to do that, and that it would not take too long.

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

Division 35

1 February 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 8
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

New Clause 11

Role of Joint Ministerial Committee

“(1) The Joint Ministerial Committee is to be a forum—

(a) for discussing—

(i) the terms upon which the United Kingdom is to commence negotiations with respect to any international trade agreement;

(ii) proposals to amend retained EU law for the purposes of regulations made under section 1 or section 2;

(b) for seeking a consensus on the matters set out in subsection l(a) between Her Majesty’s Government and the other members of the Joint Ministerial Committee.

(2) Before Her Majesty’s Government concludes an international trade agreement, the Secretary of State must produce a document for consideration by the Joint Ministerial Committee setting out—

(a) Her Majesty’s Government’s objectives and strategy in negotiating and concluding an international trade agreement;

(b) the steps Her Majesty’s Government intends to take to keep the Joint Ministerial Committee informed of progress in reaching an international trade agreement;

(c) the steps Her Majesty’s Government intends to take to consult each member of the Joint Ministerial Committee before entering into an international trade agreement and for taking the views of each member into account.

(3) Before concluding an international trade agreement the Secretary of State must produce a document setting out the terms of the proposed agreement for consideration by the Joint Ministerial Committee.

(4) In this section, ‘the Joint Ministerial Committee’ means the body set up in accordance with Supplementary Agreement A of the Memorandum of Understanding on Devolution, between Her Majesty’s Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive Committee”.—(Barry Gardiner.)

This new clause would ensure appropriate consultation with the devolved authorities on international trade agreements.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I made brief reference to this new clause during our discussion of new clause 3, but let me set out in a little more detail why we believe it is required. We have heard from the Minister about the Government’s intention to engage with the devolved authorities in respect of matters that may fall within devolved competences. However, if the Government are to demonstrate that they are serious in this regard, they must ensure that such a consultation framework is established in the Bill.

Modern trade agreements are increasingly broad and comprehensive, and extend into all aspects of governance, public policy and commerce. Inevitably and invariably, trade agreements will impact on matters that have long been, and rightly are, considered to be matters of devolved competence, albeit that our obligations to date have been determined at European level. The Government need to give clarity in the Bill about when an obligation ceases to be a trade matter that is within the exclusive competence of the UK and becomes a matter that is within the competence of the respective devolved Administrations.

We have heard that this matter is not unique to the United Kingdom. It is an emerging issue around the world, so we must consider it from an international perspective and ask ourselves not just what satisfies immediate domestic policy objectives but what we would demand from would-be trade partners who face similar issues and, perhaps more importantly, what they would expect from us.

I again refer the Committee to Nick Ashton-Hart’s evidence:

“the political economy demands that you have the backing, as a negotiator, at home when you are sitting across the table from your counterparties and that they know that you have that. They can watch your processes of consent and agreement and evaluate where your weaknesses are—where there are buttons they can push, but also where you are likely to need support.”[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 10, Q12.]

We would be nothing short of foolish to allow our trade negotiators to commence talks without first having consulted and engaged with our constituent interests, which absolutely must include the devolved authorities. Trade negotiations can be brutal. The Americans have no qualms in telling us that they refer to counterparties to such talks not as “partners” but as “adversaries”. Any weakness in position or failure to come prepared can be extremely costly and damaging—especially so if complications are presented later when the Government seek to ensure implementation and compliance with the obligations stemming from the concluded trade agreement. A whole-of-Government approach is required, not only to avoid later difficulties but to ensure the democratic will is represented fully in the determination of our international outlook and the relationships we will form with other states.

Other countries have sought to create a consultation framework to mitigate any such complications at the earliest possible stage of the process. The US has its Trade Promotion Authority, born of the fast-track scheme. There are problems and complications with it, but it is there. The Government of Canada have given a much greater role to the country’s provinces in setting mandates and consulting in negotiations, as a result of the EU’s refusal even to begin trade talks unless it had confidence that the provincial governments would ultimately agree to implementation. Will the Minister tell us whether any of the trade working groups and dialogues that the Government have established with would-be trade partners have yet covered that issue, or whether the issue has been raised in the provisional soundings taken of the third countries with which we seek a trade agreement that corresponds with one they might have with the EU?

It is rumoured that the Government’s preference is to mirror as much as possible the Australian trade policy model. In Australia, no such formal consultation exists with state governments. They have the same rights as any other lobbyist: they can submit responses to open consultation in advance of the conclusion of trade agreements. Of course, that approach presents entirely different problems, and it would be foolhardy to believe otherwise. We have seen the Queensland state government implement policy that ignores obligations under Australia’s trade agreement with New Zealand in order to deliver on Queensland’s public interest and economic performance duties.

Will the Minister tell us what discussions his Department has had with each of those countries in this respect? Have concerns been raised about consultation with our devolved authorities? Conversely, have we asked about theirs? Perhaps the Government have given assurances that they intend not to consult with the devolved authorities and will use the powers in the Bill to override devolved competence. Perhaps it is a case of “put up and shut up”.

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On that point, is my hon. Friend aware that the Institute for Government found that in other countries, such as Canada, buy-in from provinces is crucial to make trade agreements such as the comprehensive economic and trade agreement work? The institute states that, otherwise, it is “political hell”. Does he agree that, similarly, the political buy-in of the devolved Administrations in the UK is necessary to implement trade agreements, and that early consultation and involvement is necessary to avoid political hell?

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Absolutely. My hon. Friend uses language that I would not wish to use in the Committee, but it is certainly a political mess. I think we can see that other countries have taken their responsibilities to their trading partners seriously, as well as their responsibilities to their constituent states, provinces and members. That is what we are seeking to do through the new clause.

The Minister may of course fall back on his plea that, “The Bill is not about that. These consultations are an unnecessary attempt to convince the Committee that the Bill is genuinely limited.” However, he cannot convince us that the Bill will not set the parameters and a precedent for our future approach to trade policy and trade agreements. One could hardly be expected to believe that an entirely different approach will be set out hereafter. Specifically in relation to the Australian example I gave, this is about procurement, which goes to the heart of part 1 of the Bill.

The Minister is obliged to seriously take on board these issues. That is why it is imperative that the Government stop codding us and start getting it right. They need to set out in primary legislation a formal consultation framework that engages the devolved authorities in the new corresponding trade agreements. Similarly, any future trade agreement is essential to our preparedness to commence formal trade talks with any other country.

That is why we on the Labour Benches have tabled new clause 11, which would see the Joint Ministerial Committee, as established under the memorandum of understanding between the United Kingdom and the devolved Administrations, established as the forum for such consultations. The Joint Ministerial Committee exists to consider non-devolved matters that impinge on devolved responsibilities and devolved matters that impinge on non-devolved responsibilities. When the UK Government and the devolved Administrations so agree, it considers devolved matters if it is beneficial to discuss their respective treatment in different parts of the UK. It keeps the arrangements for liaison between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations under review and considers disputes between the Administrations.

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It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I was particularly struck by what Elspeth Macdonald, the deputy chief executive of Food Standards Scotland, said. Perhaps my hon. Friend agrees with her. In giving evidence, she said:

“The principal issue with the Bill that causes us great difficulties is the way in which it constrains the ability of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers, and consequently our ability, to act and regulate in ways that are considered appropriate for businesses and the public in Scotland.”[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2018; c. 95, Q172.]

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I thank my hon. Friend, because that evidence is absolutely apposite to the new clause. All we are seeking to do is assist the Government in any future negotiations they may have as they seek to roll over agreements to corresponding agreements. We want to make it easier for them to persuade a trading partner that there will be no problems in implementing the agreements.

The Joint Ministerial Committee has already been the vehicle for similar engagement in respect of EU negotiations on the withdrawal deal, by way of sub-committee, establishing a clear precedent for a similar sub-committee in respect of trade agreements. That would be extremely helpful. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the Bill ensures that a similar forum is legislated for to ensure that the democratic will of the entire population of the country is represented fully throughout the trade agreement process and without threatening the devolved competencies.

I take this opportunity to remind the Government that they must not allow the Bill to afford Ministers of the Crown powers that would undermine the competence of the devolved authorities and the devolution settlements. While instituting a formal consultation framework through the JMC would go some way to protecting the rights of the devolved Administrations, it would not and cannot be considered as addressing the other concerns presented by the Bill, which I have previously adverted to in our proceedings. If the Government fail to address those concerns, the Labour party will return with further amendments.

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The Trade Bill fails to set out a suitable framework for future trade agreements. The arrangements included in the Bill are insufficient and leave a lot to be desired on several important issues that I and many MPs raised in the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Just like that Bill, the Trade Bill puts restrictions on the Executive capacity of the Scottish and Welsh Governments, while placing no restrictions on the capacity of the UK Government. Essentially, under the Bill, Ministers of the UK Government will be able to legislate in devolved areas.

Wales is an outward-facing, globally trading nation and remains open for business.

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Could the hon. Lady outline to the Committee why she did not vote last week for the Welsh Government’s sponsored amendment in this area?

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I thank the Minister for asking that question. As he will recall, I spoke widely in support of that amendment. We will discuss that at a later stage.

In Wales, our economy offers great opportunities for both trade and investment. The Bill must not put that at risk. As I just mentioned, I spoke last week on the principles of devolution. Today, I want to reiterate that the Bill seriously lacks consideration of the principle of devolution and the appropriate frameworks to make it work. It is unacceptable that the Government expect the Welsh and Scottish Administrations to be content with handing over power on devolved areas to Whitehall.

The Bill in its current state hands over an unnecessary amount of power to the Government of the day, whoever they may be, and in no way does it safeguard the principles of devolution that people in Wales and Scotland have fought so hard for. I want to stress, once again, that my reservations with the Bill’s lack of consideration for devolution have nothing to do with extending the powers of devolution.

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Mr Southworth of the International Chamber of Commerce said that the devolved Administrations have cause for concern due to

“vulnerabilities on a whole range on different industries.”[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 35, Q80.]

Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that there is greater need for consultation with the devolved Administrations?

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That is exactly what I am saying. I absolutely agree that we need that consultation and agreement with the devolved Administrations, in order that we do not jeopardise future trade agreements on an international level.

Our concern is that devolution is being rolled back because UK Ministers would be allowed to use Henry VIII powers to reach across into legislation within devolved competence and make changes. The Joint Ministerial Committee was created with the purpose of giving the devolved Administrations the chance to give their input. So far, it has been used sparingly: there have been few meaningful discussions, it has met rarely and little has come out of it. That needs to change.

Good governance requires co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South just set out. That was also set out in the devolution settlements. The Bill as written is unacceptable. It must contain appropriate frameworks that respect the devolution settlement. We will not agree to the rolling back of devolution and to seriously risking damaging our future trading agreements. Unfortunately, that is what the Government seem to want to do.

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I welcome the spirit of the new clause, but from my perspective, we should have something stronger than just consultation; we would be looking for the consent of the devolved Administrations. That is in line with some of our amendments that have been defeated. I certainly welcome the hon. Member for Brent North’s saying that the official Opposition will revisit some of the amendments on Report. We will certainly look to co-operate on this matter.

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I hope that that will all be unnecessary, because I trust that the Government will see the error of their ways and introduce those amendments themselves. If they do not, I reiterate my assurance to the hon. Gentleman that the Opposition will.

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Far be it from me to suggest that the hon. Gentleman may be a tad naive, but he is certainly optimistic if he thinks the Government have seen the light on this. I have made this point several times, but the devolved Administrations have said that they will withhold legislative consent motions if the Bill is not amended, so realistically, the Government will need to consider further amendments.

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The Government have made it clear that we seek to maintain the effects of the UK’s existing trade agreements. We make that commitment in relation to all parts of the United Kingdom, which means that we do not intend Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or, indeed, England to be disproportionately impacted by the transitioning of those agreements. Given that we have committed to seeking continuity in the effects of existing agreements, the impact of the transition should be neutral on all parts of the UK.

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While I take what the right hon. Gentleman says with the greatest of respect—I want to believe him—can he not see that, from the perspective of those of us from the devolved nations, the written and oral evidence given to the Committee paints a very different picture from that which he paints here today? Our concerns are legitimate, yet we have nothing. The Government have supported none of our amendments, despite promises made on the Floor of the House.

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I will come on to outline the engagement that we have had with the devolved Administrations and to talk about what that engagement might look like in the future. I stress to the hon. Lady that the Bill is about transitioning agreements that, in most cases, are already in place.

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Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, the chief executive of Business for Scotland, put it very simply. He said that the Bill

“puts the power to act almost unilaterally in the hands of a single Minister… At worst, it looks like a deliberate attempt to delay the transfer of EU-held powers…until after the UK Government has had free rein to agree deals that you could say run roughshod over the devolution agreements”.––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2018; c. 99, Q184.]

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Again, if I recall correctly, the evidence was almost all about future trade agreements that the UK may wish to enter into. To reiterate, the Bill talks about our existing trading arrangements.

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Does the Minister not accept that they will technically be new agreements?

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As I have laid out frequently, the substance of the agreements will be the same. That is what we are looking to transition; that is the continuity factor of these agreements. There will of course be the opportunity in the future to come to new trade agreements with the same countries, but we are talking about the continuity of our existing trading arrangements—the 40-plus agreements with 70-plus nations.

On consultation with the devolved Administrations, the Department for International Trade ensures that its Ministers, as well as its directors and other senior officials, visit the devolved Administrations regularly and continually looks for further opportunities to engage with a range of stakeholders across the UK. Indeed, the hon. Member for Livingston knows that, because on a previous visit to Edinburgh I actually went to her constituency. The Secretary of State has engaged with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and with the Northern Ireland Executive.

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We were very glad to welcome the Minister to Livingston and I have been glad to engage with him on issues in my constituency. However, does he not recognise that engagement and consultation are very different from consent? The importance of consent and the devolution settlement being rowed back on are very different issues.

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I do not mean for us to keep throwing questions at each other, but I again stress that the Bill is about the existing trading arrangements of the United Kingdom as a whole. We will engage extensively with the devolved Administrations about what the future arrangements might be. We are being clear that we will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations as we transition these agreements as well. The devolved Administrations will, of course, have a role in implementing transitioned trade agreements in devolved areas, including, where appropriate, by amending retained EU law.

We have committed to consulting the devolved Administrations on the most appropriate way to implement the transitioned trade agreements and the agreement on government procurement in areas of retained direct EU law that have effect in otherwise devolved areas. We will welcome their input on the best way to do that so that the agreements are implemented effectively for the whole of the UK. We will also work closely with the devolved Administrations on the role they will play in shaping the UK’s future trade negotiations. It is right that we should have the opportunity to take these discussions forward and to engage the devolved Administrations to understand their views.

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I welcome the fact that the Minister is outlining the engagement he has had with the devolved Administrations, but can he confirm what the views of the devolved Administrations are on the provisions of the Bill?

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I do not think the hon. Gentleman needs me to confirm that. He has said himself what the position of the devolved Administrations is, including on the legislative consent motion. We have listened to them and will continue to listen to them very closely. He has put his point of view on the record as to the perspective of the Scottish Government.

I will come back to some of the points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Brent North wanted to put devolved Administration engagement on the face of the Bill. I stress again that these agreements are about continuity, not future trade agreements. We have been clear in the White Paper that we will engage. We therefore do not require statutory engagement structures in the Bill.

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One of the trade agreements that we have repeatedly come back to, which makes it quite clear that this is not the simple roll-over of the existing trading arrangements that the Minister is talking about, is the treaty we currently have with Norway. Fisheries are an important part of Norway’s economy. It is almost inconceivable that in the roll-over of that agreement, there will not need to be some provision in that regard. Surely the Minister must address those points, because they are pertinent to the Bill and to the Government’s capacity to do what they seek to do, which in large measure the Opposition believe to be right and proper: to try to make the transition as seamless as possible. However, there will be areas where it is not, and Norway is one of them. We must address that and not simply gloss over it by saying, “Well, we’ll have to deal with that once we know what we’re doing with the EU final deal.”

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Of course we value our trade relations with Norway very strongly and closely. By geography alone, let alone the amount of oil and gas coming from Norway, we have incredibly strong trade relations. For the record, I met the Norwegian Trade Minister last autumn. I am perhaps going to sound like déjà vu all over again, but I repeat that the future trading relations with Norway will be very dependent on the future UK negotiations with the European Union. That is not a matter for this Bill; it is a matter that is being scrutinised on frequent occasions in this House and elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Brent North said that we need an engagement structure for future trade agreements. The Government agree that we need to engage the devolved Administrations in our future trade agreements for the benefit of the whole of the UK, as was made clear in the White Paper. We are talking to the devolved Administrations about what that will look like. The new clause would pre-decide that discussion.

The hon. Gentleman talked about international examples for consultation models with the devolved Administrations and gave us a quite interesting exposition of the position in Australia and other parts of the world. It was fascinating stuff, but our constitutional arrangement is very different from any of the international examples raised. As was made clear in our White Paper, we therefore need to design our own engagement structures, in consultation, that work for the benefit of the whole of the UK.

The hon. Members for Warwick and Leamington and for Cardiff North claimed that we were putting a constraint on the devolved legislatures. To be clear, the Bill will allow the devolved Administrations to make regulations that they consider appropriate for the purpose of implementing trade agreements in devolved areas, including in areas of retained EU law.

The hon. Member for Cardiff North said that devolution is being undermined. That is not at all the case. The Bill introduces new powers for the devolved Administrations to work collaboratively with the UK Government to secure continuity in our current trading relationships. Under the Bill, the devolved Administrations will be able to make every decision after exit that they can make before exit. We therefore do not need to commit to such a review or role for the Joint Ministerial Committee in legislation.

The official Opposition’s tabling at a late stage of this emergency extra new clause, which emerged earlier this week, seems to be more about Labour members of the Committee messing it up last week by controversially not supporting the Welsh Labour Government’s amendments, when everyone expected them to do so. When the hon. Member for Warrington South talked about a “political hell”, he might have been referring to the political hell we see all day, every day in the official Opposition in this House and elsewhere. On that basis, I urge the hon. Member for Brent North not to press the new clause.

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Had I been disposed not to press the new clause, the Minister’s final remarks would have made me all the more determined to do so. However, I was not so disposed, and we will press the new clause to a vote.

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

Division 36

1 February 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 6
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

New Clause 12

Animal welfare and sentience

“(1) Regulations may only be made under section 2(1) if the provisions of the international trade agreement to which they relate are compatible with—

(a) any provision in UK law (including retained EU law) relating to animal welfare standards and the welfare of animals in the production of food; and

(b) any obligations relating to animal sentience by which the UK is bound, or any principles relating to animal sentience to which the UK adheres.”—(Barry Gardiner.)

This new clause would ensure that our animal welfare and food production standards are, at a minimum, maintained in any international trade agreement.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This is the last new clause we will deal with in Committee, and it is our last attempt in Committee to introduce a high-level principle into the Bill. We have tried to establish the legal framework for an ethical trading policy that respects human rights, labour standards, environmental integrity and the needs of countries and communities poorer than our own. The Government turned down every single amendment and new clause that tried to enshrine those principles in law. None the less, we will have one final push. We are trying to establish the principle of animal welfare and sentience at the heart of our trade policy. Perhaps the Government will agree to stand up for those species that share our planet with us, but that have no representatives of their own to speak for them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South spoke persuasively—though not persuasively enough to get Government Members to agree—about the importance of maintaining high food standards in all our trade agreements. She referred to the connection between high food standards and the call for animal welfare, whether in respect of the general requirement for food hygiene or the specific target set by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate for a reduction of antibiotic use in agriculture. We also argued for animal welfare to be included in any impact assessment of the UK’s trade agreements, whether it is carried out ex ante or ex post. That call stands, and we will continue to press the point until we are satisfied.

I am pleased that the Minister saw fit to agree with us about the importance of this issue. I quote from the Hansard report of our sitting a couple of days ago:

“The Government have always been clear that we will maintain our very high standards on food and animal welfare, and for protection in that space. There will be no race to the bottom. Nothing in free trade agreements precludes a Government from regulating in the domestic environment. I hope that that is enough reassurance for the hon. Gentleman.”––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 30 January 2018; c. 196.]

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The hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under Tony Blair. Can he point to specific occasions when he raised concerns about animal sentience with respect to trade agreements that were going through at that time?

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That is one on which I will probably write to the right hon. Gentleman. I am convinced that there were a number of occasions when I did exactly that. I will try to dig them out from my records and send them to him. I am delighted that he did not stand up to repudiate the remarks recorded in Hansard, as he did the other day. Given that, I take it that he stands by them.

Sadly, the Minister’s reassurance on this matter is not enough. The right of parties to regulate in favour of animal life and animal health is regularly mentioned in the text of international trade agreements, yet that same right is typically circumscribed by requirements that any measures to protect animal health must be undertaken while facilitating trade. Governments may take any measure they like to protect animal health so long as it does not create an “unjustified barrier to trade”. It is left to a tribunal of trade lawyers, who examine the justification of the measure in relation to international trade law, to decide whether it is justified or unjustified.

There is sometimes a clause in the general exceptions chapter of a free trade agreement that affirms that a state may introduce whatever measures are necessary to protect animal life or health, but the meaning of “necessary” is left up to another tribunal of trade lawyers to decide. They may rule that an alternative measure is available that would be less burdensome on trade and therefore conclude, even if the alternative would be less effective, that the measure that was taken does not qualify as necessary after all.

This is familiar territory to anyone who has looked into the history of international trade disputes, both before and since the founding of the World Trade Organisation. There is an entire sub-discipline of trade lawyers and academics who have written about what they call the “necessity test” that is employed to ascertain whether a measure is necessary and thus allowed under international trade law, or unnecessary and thus prohibited.

Let me take as a specific example a free trade agreement that was mentioned in written evidence by the RSPCA, because it contains a fleeting reference to animal welfare. The Government are keen to replace the EU-Korea free trade agreement with a new UK-Korea agreement, which would be implemented using the powers afforded to the Government by the Bill. The chapter of the EU-Korea agreement devoted to sanitary and phytosanitary measures includes specific clauses about enhanced co-operation between EU and Korean authorities on animal welfare issues—anyone who wishes to look them up will find them in article 5.9—yet those fine sentiments are thoroughly undermined by the clause at the outset of the chapter, which states that the objective of the chapter as a whole is

“to minimise the…effects of sanitary and phytosanitary measures on trade”.

The health and welfare of animals—and of humans, for that matter—is already subordinated to commercial interests. That is precisely the problem.

We must ensure that animals are farmed for human consumption under the very best and most humane conditions, not to mention the conditions in which they are transported, which often happens when they are still alive and fully conscious of their surroundings. More than 3 million live animals are transported out of Europe every year, some as far away as Singapore, on their way to slaughter. Many die on the journey. Britain exports 30,000 live animals overseas for slaughter each year—a trade that we have been powerless to ban as long as we have been a member state of the European Union. Even a country such as New Zealand, with its considerable reliance on meat exports, outlawed the trade in live animals more than a decade ago.

The new clause seeks to ensure that no regulations may be made under clause 2(1) of the Bill unless they are compatible with the UK’s legal requirements on animal welfare—particularly as they relate to animals farmed for food. By introducing the new clause, we seek to ensure that, where the commercial aspects of a free trade agreement come into conflict with the principles of animal welfare, the animal welfare principles prevail.

We also seek to ensure coherence and consistency between the Bill and the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill, which the Government published last December and which will enshrine in law the recognition that animals are sentient beings capable of experiencing both pleasure and pain. Given that that is one of the flagship pieces of legislation being championed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we hope that our last new clause might find favour with the Government after all—or perhaps the Minister is not able to agree even to this.

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I will be brief. We all believe in maintaining the very highest standards in animal welfare and food production; I do not think that is in dispute. The Government have done quite a lot in the last few months—we know about the ban on microbeads, to protect marine wildlife—but this is one of the areas in which we are able to go further and do better than we ever could while we were in the EU.

There is much to agree with in the statements from the hon. Member for Brent North; I, too, am against the export of live animals. However, we must remember the Bill’s purpose: ensuring the smooth roll-over of existing trade agreements. It is not about future trade agreements, so I do not believe that the Bill is the appropriate place for the new clause. In fact, if I were being cynical, I would say that this looks like a mischievous attempt to reignite the debate on new clause 30 that was proposed to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, in order to generate press releases.

Our job is to make good law. The draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill was published on 12 December. It sets out to do exactly what the new clause would do, but even better. If Labour Members were serious about raising animal welfare standards, rather than virtue signalling, they would focus on the draft Bill. We should not tack on to the Trade Bill a new clause that is outside its scope.

As it happens, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee yesterday released its report on the draft Bill. It made several recommendations for improving it, including bringing forward a new and completely separate Bill on animal sentience. The Government have to reflect on that report and its recommendations, and it would be inappropriate for us to pre-empt the Select Committee’s report and the Government’s reaction.

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As the hon. Lady said, nobody can argue against the new clause’s intentions: maintaining animal welfare and food production standards when entering into international trade agreements. I am sure that the Minister will say that the new clause is not needed, because existing agreements will roll over and they comply with all the legislation, but as we heard from witnesses, in the roll-over process everything is up for grabs, so there is an argument for protecting animal welfare and food production standards in the Bill, and I understand why the proposal has been made.

One concern that I have about the new clause is that it refers to UK law and does not recognise that law is devolved; animal sentience should also be a devolved matter once we withdraw from the EU. From my perspective, the new clause does not take cognisance of the Scottish Government and the devolved Administrations, so that causes me concern about how it is written.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden said that the Tory Government are bringing in good law, but then admitted that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has made recommendations against the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. As a member of that Committee, I can say that witnesses have basically said that the current proposal as regards recognising animal sentience is not good law and not fit for purpose, and the Committee is recommending that the Government think again on that Bill in terms of sentience, so they are a long way from making good law.

I support the principles of the new clause, but as stated, I have concerns about it not recognising the devolved Administrations.

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I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North for his excellent opening remarks in support of a very important new clause. I hope that the Government will agree with me and my hon. Friends that it is vital that we protect animal welfare and food production standards when building our trade policy. We must prioritise a sustainable, long-term future for our farming, fishing and food industries. We cannot allow Brexit to be used as an excuse to reduce food standards or to allow cheap and inferior produce to flood the UK market. We have a moral duty to protect animals and their welfare, and that should go hand in hand with the protections that we must afford to our farming and production industry and to British consumers.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not a partisan issue, but a question of the kind of society we want to live in?

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Absolutely. That is a crucial point, which I hope Government Members will take into account.

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Is it not actually the case that good law is not made on the rush? The very nature of the new clause that we are debating is on the rush, and that is why we should reject it.

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I will give the Minister time to respond on that.

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I completely agree with the previous intervention: good law is not made in a rush. But that is exactly what the Government did in reaction to voting down amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: they rushed out legislation that is really poor.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I ask the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford how the new clause would prevent the easy roll-over of EU trade agreements. This issue is controversial, but I will move on.

There are real concerns that if we produce trade agreements that allow the UK market to be flooded with cheap and poor-quality food, we will be forcing our farming and food production industries to make an impossible decision. Either they face becoming uncompetitive and being undercut by cheap and poor-quality imports, thus risking the jobs of the 3.9 million people employed in the industry, or they are pressured to cut corners and their own standards, putting at risk the welfare of the animals and potentially of consumers.

Many health risks are associated with poor-quality produce, and often such produce is consumed without knowledge, especially given the mass catering in schools, hospitals and takeaways. British people deserve to feel confident that they will be eating high-quality produce, wherever it has come from, following our departure from the European Union.

Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now told the Committee that

“we probably all now know more than we would like about chlorinated chickens”––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 6, Q3.]

That is true, but it is important that we are aware of the potential negative impacts of failing to build a strong and sustainable future trade policy. Have the Government considered the negative impact on animals, on the farming and production industries, and on consumers of not supporting this new clause?

UK farmers have made great strides in recent years to improve animal welfare, and we are proud to have some of the highest animal welfare and food standards in the world. We have heard many times that our departure from the European Union is an opportunity for the UK to return to being a world leader in international trade. That prompts the question of why the Government are not committed to legislating for animal welfare protections to ensure that the rug is not pulled out from under the food and farming markets and to help the British farming industry to continue to lead the way in animal welfare and international trade.

There has already been much controversy surrounding the Government’s approach to animal welfare and sentience. It is no secret that the Prime Minister has faced difficulties in getting the Cabinet to agree on much in recent weeks, but she claims that it remains unified. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that there will be

“no diminution in our environmental or animal welfare standards in pursuit of trade deals.”

In that case, I am hopeful that we can expect Government support for this new clause, which would legislate for the protection of animal welfare standards—or is the Cabinet no longer unified on that position?

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I rise to speak to new clause 12, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North for proposing it. It would ensure that we provide important safeguards for not just livestock but our farming communities and our consumers by specifying animal welfare and sentience in the legislation.

In November, as we have heard, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs promised to make “any necessary changes” to UK law to ensure that it recognises that animals can feel pain. That came after proposals to accept that they are sentient beings were voted down. Now the Government are apparently looking at making UK law that specifically recognises animal sentience. I remind the Committee that the first sentence of the Bill says that it will

“Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements”.

That is why—when we have spoken at previous sittings about ensuring that it is a comprehensive Trade Bill—we have said that this issue should be included.

According to the written evidence from the RSPCA, the EU has 19 farm animal welfare laws that the UK has implemented, giving a high degree of consistency on standards and a level playing field for trade in farm products. That will not be the case when the UK starts to negotiate FTAs with other countries. Thankfully, the UK has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world, although it is well documented that Canadian and American farm welfare standards tend to be based on corporate standards rather than federal law, as we heard in the International Trade Committee yesterday.

Likewise, an FTA may include sectoral chapters on cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and pesticides. The UK needs to be careful that it does not compromise any existing UK laws, such as cosmetics regulation, or risk that those laws are as sensitive to change as the farm animal ones that I have mentioned.

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The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech. One of the points he raises surely gets to the nub of the matter. When he says that we should not do anything contrary to domestic law in trade agreements, he rather makes the point for me that the Government and the country will have a right to regulate most of these matters domestically, which is the important thing. We can introduce protections domestically in our laws that would not be subject to the trade agreement.

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I thank the Minister for his intervention. There is the law that goes through this place, and there is the role and power of the Minister, and very much at the nub of this debate over the Bill is the control the Minister has, as opposed to the controls we and other bodies will have, in influencing any trade agreements.

Given that the Government are now proposing a new process in the draft animal welfare Bill to ensure that any future legislation or policy is assessed against animal welfare science and standards, it is clear that that will need to be recognised in the Trade Bill, otherwise one of the most important areas that could undermine animal welfare standards—trade negotiations—would be outside the ambit of that Bill. As Peter Stevenson, the chief policy adviser for Compassion in World Farming stated to the Select Committee,

“what the US will press for, if you look at recent trade agreements, is regulatory coherence, a requirement that we in the UK and the US try to bring our regulations on the environment, food safety and animal welfare close to each other. This is going to be very difficult because the USA has almost no regulations to protect the welfare of animals whereas the UK has very detailed legislation on the welfare of pigs, calves, meat chickens and egg-laying hens and on the welfare of animals during transport and slaughter.”

With that in mind, and particularly given the recommendation of the Secretary of State that animal welfare and sentience should be addressed by UK law, I urge all Members on the Committee to support this new clause.

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It is imperative that animal welfare rights are protected after we leave the EU and that animals keep their status as sentient beings under UK law, which is why this new clause is absolutely vital.

I wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after the defeat in the House of Commons on this very issue. That letter was signed by over 100 MPs. It is disappointing that the Trade Bill neglected to make it clear that the UK will not enter any trade deals in the future that will require us to water down animal welfare standards. It is clear from the reaction of the public, and from the campaigns and letters that I am sure all MPs have received from constituents and organisations, that people have no interest in seeing chlorinated chicken in our supermarkets, are not happy to see live animal exports and are not willing to compromise in any way on animal rights to please the likes of the current US President or any other leader of a country that does not share the same concerns and views as us on animal welfare and animal sentience. Any trade negotiation or deal will impact on UK animal welfare standards.

Under article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, the UK recognises animals as sentient beings—that they are not just goods but have the capacity to feel pain, hunger, heat and cold—and that the Government must pay full regard to their welfare requirements. Recognising animals as sentient beings is accepted across animal welfare science and means that we acknowledge that animals are capable of feelings such as pain and are deserving of our respect. It is appalling that this Government could not vote in favour of maintaining—let alone progressing—existing animal welfare standards during the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

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I am not accusing the hon. Lady of spreading misinformation, of course, but a lot of the reactions to that vote spread a lot of misinformation. Various otherwise reputable news outlets such as The Independent and Evening Standard had to retract and withdraw and to print clarifications and apologies for putting out misinformation about the Government’s view on animal sentience. The Government strongly believe in animal sentience, and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill vote was not contrary to that.

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I thank the Minister for his intervention, but the fact remains that this Government did not vote for that amendment, so are we to keep that trust that this UK Government will introduce those welfare standards post-Brexit? I for one do not find that trust. I struggle to understand this decision by the Government, which is a massive blow for the welfare of wildlife, pets and livestock alike.

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There is a draft Bill on sentencing and animal sentience coming in. Why does the hon. Lady feel that there will be no commitments in that Bill, given what it is called? What are her concerns about that Bill?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but does she not realise that this Bill is about the rules and regulations during trade? That is why we need the new clause in the Bill.

Only domestic animals are covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006; animals in the wild and laboratory animals are expressly exempt. As we seek new deals in our negotiations with countries that perhaps have much lower animal welfare standards, we are particularly concerned that there will be the temptation to lower our standards. The Bill needs strengthening to better protect UK animal welfare standards. I hope the Government will see some sense and support the new clause to ensure that we do not water down those standards.

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The Government have made clear that we intend not only to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the European Union but, indeed, to enhance them. We are proud to have some of the highest animal welfare standards anywhere in the world, and they will not be watered down when we leave the EU.

Our food is held in high repute thanks to our animal welfare standards. The withdrawal Bill will transfer on to the UK statute book all EU animal welfare standards— it is very important to understand that in the context of the withdrawal Bill, which was raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff North. Our current high standards, including import requirements, will apply when we leave the EU.

Similarly, the Government are committed to retaining the EU’s recognition of animal sentience. That is why, as has been referred to quite a few times in this helpful debate, at the end of last year the Government published the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill, which sets out how we can go even further and better enshrine in domestic law the recognition of animals as sentient beings. That point was capably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden and others.

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Does the Minister understand that the new clause’s intention is not to run counter to or prevent what we hope the Government will bring forward in that Bill? It seeks to establish the hierarchy of principles in international trade so that a necessity test or any other precursor in the clauses and paragraphs that deal with such issues cannot mean that animal welfare is of a lower order in that hierarchy.

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Let us try to separate out those two issues. We will deal with animal sentience in the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. What we are talking about here is transitioning existing trade agreements. I will return to the intervention I made on the hon. Gentleman in relation to existing trade agreements, but let me first point out a few more things in the draft animal welfare Bill. It proposes a new obligation on Ministers of the Crown to have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings when formulating and implementing Government policy. A public consultation on the draft Bill has recently closed and DEFRA is considering all the responses received.

We are absolutely clear that all existing commitments relating to animal welfare will remain when these agreements are transitioned—I cannot be any more definitive than that. That is in line with our clearly articulated principle that it is our intent to transition solely the existing effects of the current agreements.

On current agreements, Mr Davies, you and I were elected in 2005, and in a couple of those early years we shared in Parliament I distinctly remember the hon. Gentleman being a DEFRA Minister. I was intrigued when he was seemingly unable to offer any single occasion when, as a Minister in DEFRA—the Department with primary responsibility in this area—he had raised any objection to EU trade agreements going through the House in relation to animal welfare or animal sentience.

I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman’s letter, in which he will explain in detail those occasions he was unable to remember today—he may have time to dig through his filing cabinet from 12 or 13 years ago to find them. I remember well that it was very rare for any Government Minister in Tony Blair’s regime to go against the word of Mr Blair, and very rare for any Government Minister to go against the word of the European Union, so I am interested to see if the hon. Member for Brent North managed to do both at the same time. I very much look forward to getting this letter. May I suggest that he shares it with the whole Committee, because I do not think that it is something I should abuse by keeping it private to myself? I look forward to that letter.

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Will the Minister give way?

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Of course—maybe he has remembered.

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May I just point out to the Minister that I voted for the ban on hunting mammals with dogs? I believe that most of the Conservative party voted to retain hunting mammals with dogs. I also voted to secure an end to cosmetic testing on animals, to ban fur farming and to introduce the Animal Welfare Act 2006. So there were a number of occasions on which my voting record on animal welfare and animal sentience stands up very strongly. I suspect that it would it be in marked contrast to many Members on the Government side of the House.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because I now find it even more illuminating. He has now been able to remember all these other occasions when he stuck up for animal welfare, but he still cannot remember a single occasion when, in relation to EU trade agreements, which is what the Bill is all about—

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rose

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Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has now remembered the single occasion. I will give him another opportunity to tell us all about this disagreement he had with Tony Blair or the European Union.

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It is not about a disagreement with Tony Blair or the European Union, because actually we did vote to ban the export of animals on the hoof in that Government. That was precisely about trade—it was banning live exports. The Minister has to accept that I have a very clear record on animal welfare in terms of not only domestic legislation in this country but international trade.

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I am still looking forward to the letter. The hon. Gentleman has still not remembered a single occasion when he raised this in relation to a European Union trade agreement. He has an opportunity. I am sure he will take a little bit of time to prepare the letter, and I am sure that all members of the Committee will look forward to receiving it.

The hon. Gentleman did mention live animal exports, which is an interesting subject. He says that he was concerned about live animal exports, but you and I know, Mr Davies, that while we remain an EU member we are unable to ban live animal exports. I do not know whether, at that point, he was taking an early Eurosceptic turn. Perhaps he mentioned to Tony Blair that he had this fundamental problem with the European Union. It was just after Tony Blair had promised a vote on the EU constitution, which was not delivered, so it may have been an interesting time to have made these Eurosceptic points that he now says that he has.

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Far be it from me to talk about what happened five or 10 years ago and under a different ministerial dispensation, but my recollection was that in the 2000s there was a huge issue about veal being transported in crates, and it was EU legislation that was introduced that actually put an end to that. I would like to think that the UK Government were in support of that, but I do not know—I will defer to either the Minister or my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North.

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If the hon. Gentleman is a strong believer in EU law, surely he should be voting, and have voted, for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which seeks to take all of this retained EU law into the UK domestic environment.

To return to the issue, we have a manifesto commitment to take early steps to control live animal exports as we leave the European Union. The hon. Member for Brent North claimed that FTAs contain provisions stating that animal health measures must

“not be unjustifiable barriers to trade”.

Again, that returns to the point I made in my intervention on the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, that it importantly does not prevent states from imposing their own high animal welfare standards, which is what we currently do and will expect to enhance in the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden made an excellent and succinct speech, outlining why the Bill is about existing trade agreements and why the Government have separate proposed legislation relating to animal sentience. I can tell her that the consultation closed yesterday and we will consider the 9,000 responses, as well as the report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, in due course.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun raised a relevant point when he said that the issue of animal sentience is devolved. I can tell him that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is speaking to the devolved Administrations regarding animal sentience. The clause in the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill refers only to UK Ministers and the role they play, but I would be interested to see what proposals the Scottish and Welsh Governments might bring forward in this space as well.

I hope that is sufficient reassurance to the hon. Member for Brent North. I very much look forward to his letter, but on that basis I ask him to withdraw the new clause.

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The Minister can ask, but he will not be successful. We will press it to a vote.

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

Division 37

1 February 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 5
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill to the House.

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Mr Davies, I thank you and everybody concerned with this Bill. I am delighted that we have so thoroughly scrutinised this short yet important Bill over the last five Committee sessions. I thank Committee members for the constructive way in which they have engaged in the debate. I am pleased that we have completed proceedings within the allotted time. In fact, we have a little time to spare.

This has been an unusual Bill Committee. The Bill, in my view, is relatively uncontroversial and certainly quite short. Indeed, on Second Reading, I think a little unfairly, the hon. Member for Brent North called it a

“hollowed out little embarrassment of a Bill, which extends to just six pages and four schedules.”—[Official Report, 9 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 223.]

I think he was calling it small and unimportant; I am interpreting the words “hollowed out little embarrassment” in that way. Therefore, I find it all the more remarkable that the Opposition have called some 37 votes on the Bill so far. I am not trying to make a wider political point—or maybe I am—but it was clear on Second Reading and now that they are against the UK having its own trade remedies, against the UK being able to benefit from the more than 40-plus EU trade agreements, and against UK companies participating in the £1.3 trillion global procurement market. I hope they will change their minds on Third Reading.

I also thank the Government Whip and the Opposition Whip, who have ensured that the Committee has run smoothly and effectively. We have had a helpful and constructive consideration of the Bill, and the debate has been superbly conducted by you, Mr Davies, and by Mrs Ryan and Mr Gray, in the Chair. I am very grateful for your and their guidance during our deliberations.

Further, I would like to pay tribute to the usual channels, who I know quite well from previous experiences in this House, for their help and guidance throughout. I also recognise in particular the hard work of Hansard in recording everything. I thank the Clerk for his advice, the Doorkeepers for keeping good order, and my excellent team of officials for their support. This is the Department for International Trade’s first ever piece of legislation, and the officials have done the Department very proud indeed.

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I, too, would like to express, on behalf of all my team, my thanks to you, Mr Davies, to Ms Ryan and Mr Gray, and to all the officials who so ably supported the Minister. We tried to throw as many difficult questions at him as possible, and they tried to field them and provide him with answers as quickly as possible. I have to say we were not always convinced by the answers he came up with, but we recognise the work that went into them and hope that we did not cause the officials too much trouble.

I pay particular tribute to Kenneth Fox, the Clerk of the Committee. He is an exemplary Clerk, and he aided us in ensuring that our amendments were substantive and all in good order. It was extremely helpful to us to be assisted by someone of his experience and wisdom—and calm. I say that because, as you know, Mr Davies, amendments are worked on until the last moment to ensure that they are tabled in good time, and Mr Fox did so with the greatest humour.

I am grateful to all my team: my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South, for Sefton Central, for Cardiff North, for Warrington South, for Blaenau Gwent and for Warwick and Leamington. It has been an excellent team effort. I am delighted that they were all able to contribute to debate in a most positive way. I also thank the Government Members. I thank the Minister, who I think took every intervention he was offered, for his courtesy. I know that serving on such Committees is often a thankless task for Government Back Benchers, who are told by the Government Whip to sit quietly and not to take up too much of the proceedings, but when they did intervene, they did so with courtesy.

We have scrutinised the Bill in great detail. We have not come to an agreement—that much is clear. There are lacunae in the Bill that need to be remedied, and we will return to it on Report and subsequently. I thank everyone associated with the Committee and in particular you, Mr Davies, for conducting proceedings with absolute fairness and impeccable order.

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I am very grateful to the Minister and the shadow Minister for their kind words. I thank the House authorities, including the Doorkeepers, who have been very busy with Divisions, and the Clerks. I reiterate the thanks to Kenneth Fox, the principal Clerk, who has guided me throughout these proceedings with his normal efficiency and courtesy. I thank all Members for making it so easy to chair the Committee. You have all been a credit to your respective parties.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

TB28 Unlock Democracy

TB29 38 Degrees

TB30 International Chamber of Commerce United Kingdom (Supplementary to oral evidence)

TB31 Africa APPG, together with the Royal African Society

TB32 TheCityUK

TB33 Trade Justice Dundee

Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill (Seventh sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: †Ms Karen Buck, Mrs Anne Main

† Blackman, Kirsty (Aberdeen North) (SNP)

† Chapman, Douglas (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP)

† Dakin, Nic (Scunthorpe) (Lab)

† Davies, Chris (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Dodds, Anneliese (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)

† Dowd, Peter (Bootle) (Lab)

† Hair, Kirstene (Angus) (Con)

Hardy, Emma (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)

† Hill, Mike (Hartlepool) (Lab)

† Kwarteng, Kwasi (Spelthorne) (Con)

† Menzies, Mark (Fylde) (Con)

† Morris, Grahame (Easington) (Lab)

† Reynolds, Jonathan (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)

† Rowley, Lee (North East Derbyshire) (Con)

† Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Stride, Mel (Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

† Stuart, Graham (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade)

† Sturdy, Julian (York Outer) (Con)

† Wragg, Mr William (Hazel Grove) (Con)

Colin Lee, Gail Bartlett, Committee Clerks