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Pension Fund Investments: Climate Change

Volume 670: debated on Monday 27 January 2020

1. What steps she is taking to work with pension funds to encourage them to make investment decisions that help tackle climate change. (900392)

3. What steps she is taking to work with pension funds to encourage them to make investment decisions that help tackle climate change. (900394)

With over £1.6 trillion in assets, UK occupational pension schemes have a significant role to play in supporting the Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050. Our environmental, social and governance regulations, introduced by this Conservative Government in October 2019, mean that schemes are now required to disclose their policy on climate change. In March, we intend to publish game-changing guidance on climate-related financial disclosure. I have written to the 50 largest schemes in the country to urge them to act on their investment duties and to tackle climate risk.

I welcome the progress that has been made on pension funds addressing climate change and ask the Minister to meet me concerning a constituent who is unable to access her pension fund without paying in excess of £2,000 in fees for independent financial advice —money she does not have until she accesses her fund.

I welcome my hon. Friend to the House, and I am happy to meet him—that will happen very soon. His constituent should understand that Parliament collectively required a £30,000 threshold whereby no individual can withdraw their defined benefit pension without first receiving advice from an independent financial adviser. As a Conservative, I am of course very keen for individuals to make their own decisions about their own money, but this decision was made and it ensured that an individual is protected from a decision without advice.

As my constituents in Rushcliffe save for their retirement, they want to know about the potential financial risk to their pension pots from climate change and that their savings are helping to tackle, rather than embed, the climate crisis. My hon. Friend has done a lot to ensure that ESG plays a key part in pension providers’ decision making. Will he consider requiring them to disclose their exposure to climate-related risk to their members?

It is a pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend to the House. She obviously knows that Ken Clarke was a legend to us all, and I am sure that she will be a great champion on behalf of the citizens of Rushcliffe.

Sadly, too few schemes are making any form of disclosure about their environmental investments and their climate risk, and I am determined to change that. Every private occupational pension holder should be able to know, individually, how their fund is invested and be able to hold the trustees and asset managers to account.

With Australia burning, South sea islands drowning, millions suffering from pollution and many dying, the world faces an unprecedented climate crisis. The power of pension funds is immense and, while I welcome the funds that have demanded that investment managers must, in the words of the Minister, “do the right thing”, so much more can, and should, be done. Will he therefore agree to cross-party, Front-Bench discussions, including on convening a pensions summit of all those with power, urging them to discharge their responsibilities to clean up our world?

I have been fortunate to work with the hon. Gentleman on a number of policies over the two and a half years that we have both held this portfolio. Clearly, I will wait to see the details of his proposals, but I would be delighted, subject to having read and considered them properly, to meet him and, at the very least, discuss how we take these matters forward.

It is important that there is cross-party working on things that are as long term as pensions, but will the Minister assure the House that this transparency, which we all welcome, will not be paid for by massively increased fees charged to savers?

The hon. Lady will understand that there are two points to her question: the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures is a voluntary arrangement that organisations have already entered into, and ongoing disclosure takes place; and in respect of the fees, the Government have agreed to review the matter in 2020, and we will look at that.