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Public Service Pensions Bill

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013


Relevant documents: 10th and 13th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.

Schedule 1 : Persons in public service: definitions

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Schedule 1, page 23, line 6, at end insert—

“(c) the Defence Fire and Rescue Service”

My Lords, this amendment refers to the position of the Defence Fire and Rescue Service within the structure of the Bill. Noble Lords will remember that it was revealed in the discussion of the Bill in Committee—the issue had not been discussed in another place—that the Defence Fire and Rescue Service had an anomalous status relative to that of other firefighters within the UK. In particular, while other firefighters within the UK had their retirement age fixed at the age of 60, together with other uniformed services, the Defence Fire and Rescue Service at that time had a retirement age tied to the statutory retirement age. Therefore, it would be 65, rising in accordance with the pattern planned for the increase in the statutory retirement age.

My hypothesis in Committee was that this was simply a slip and a mistake and that people had just happened to miss the fact that a category of firefighters was not covered in the actual language of the Bill. I therefore expected that, once the Minister had taken the matter back—he conceded in Committee that he had not had the opportunity to consider it with any great care—the mistake would be understood and the firefighters would be included with the other uniformed services, having their retirement age fixed at 60, as is the case with the other uniformed services. However, to my considerable surprise, this has not been the case. I understand that the firefighters—and, indeed, the Ministry of Defence Police, to which I will turn in a moment—have met the Minister and that he has turned down this proposition. He has substituted for it the assurance that their pension age would be maintained at 65 and not, perhaps, go up with the statutory pension age, although his assurance was not terribly clear in the sense that it referred to a three-year differential between the statutory retirement age and that for Ministry of Defence firefighters. In due course, when it gets to 68 or 69, as we all live longer, those firefighters would see their retirement age go up—or so I presume; perhaps the Minister can clarify that later on—while that of their colleagues in the rest of their fire service would stay the same, at 60.

The Minister has one fundamental question to answer. It is an answer that not just this House but the firefighters themselves deserve. How does their job differ from that of local authority firefighters? In what way is it less onerous, when they have to work on military establishments, dealing on occasion with extremely dangerous materials, and occasionally also in war zones? How is their job less onerous? In those circumstances, why should we have this situation in which their retirement age is five years higher?

I wonder whether the Minister has taken the trouble to find out when the Defence Fire and Rescue Service members actually retire. If he did take that trouble, he would find out that the majority of them retire before the age of 60. They retire early, with a significantly reduced pension, and they have to do that because they are physically unable to keep going. A study performed by the Civilian Consultant Adviser in Occupational Medicine for the Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation not only produced data but argued that continuing beyond the age of 60 was detrimental to the long-term health of firefighters in the Ministry of Defence Fire and Rescue Service. If the noble Lord had taken the trouble to find out what was actually happening, he would have found out that firefighters in this service are forced to retire early due to their physical condition or because they are unable to pass the regular physical examinations they undergo to ensure that they can perform their duties to the required standard.

As I said in my introduction, initially I presumed that this omission was a mistake and I still think that that is the case. However, some pen-pushing bureaucrat is defending his back against men who risk their lives and health for us on a regular basis by producing the argument that if the age of retirement, which is currently 65—even though the majority retire before 60—were reduced to 60, like that of all other uniformed services, this would be the only group in the entire public service to have their retirement age lowered by the Bill. I refer the person who wrote to the Ministry of Defence firefighters to that effect to the excellent report of my noble friend Lord Hutton, in which he said:

“The current public service pensions structure was not designed for modern working patterns and has been unable to respond flexibly to changes in this area and to demographic change over the past few decades. This has led to … unequal treatment of members within the same profession”.

What we are discussing is a prime example of exactly that. Therefore, Amendment 1 seeks to incorporate the Defence Fire and Rescue Service firefighters within the overall category of firefighters to ensure that they are treated in exactly the same way as their fellows in local authority and other fire services.

Amendment 2 seeks to do the same for the Ministry of Defence Police. I ask the noble Lord to answer these questions. In what way are the tasks of the Ministry of Defence Police, who have to carry body armour and weapons at virtually all times, less onerous than those of the regular police forces? In what way are their tasks different? With respect to the police forces, we have a hint that perhaps the hypothesis that this is all a mistake is correct given that the definition of “members of a police force” in Schedule 1 states:

“In this Act ‘members of a police force’—

(a) in relation to England and Wales, includes special constables and police cadets”.

That is the only definition. It does not mention police forces that report to a police authority. It simply refers to,

“members of a police force”,

and states that that includes the cadets. It could be any police force: for example, the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police, and the nuclear protection forces.

I do not want to give the Government the opportunity to reinforce their discrimination against Ministry of Defence employees but there is a clear possibility that a discriminatory mistake is being made in this regard. It really is not sufficient, at the 11th hour, for the Minister simply to say, “Oh well, we’ll fix it at 65”, when one considers the nature of the work done by, and the considerable physical demands on, local authority firefighters and Ministry of Defence firefighters. It is important to recognise the nature of the work done and that the categories into which we would place the Ministry of Defence firefighters and police are exactly the same as those of local authority firefighters and normal police forces that report to police authorities. I beg to move.

My Lords, my name is attached to the first of these amendments and I support the second one. I do not want to add a lot to what my noble friend has said but I concur with him that at some point along the line, there has been either a mistake or an oversight. There can be very little argument but that the uniformed ranks who happen to be employed by the Ministry of Defence do a very similar and, if anything, significantly more dangerous job in certain locations than firefighters generally, and that therefore the exception to the general rule that applies to uniformed staff covered in my noble friend Lord Hutton’s report ought logically to apply to this group of workers. I cannot see a logical argument for excluding them from that exception.

My second point is that this group is in a Civil Service scheme that covers several hundred thousand people. We are dealing here with a unique workforce of 800 firefighters who serve our defence forces in the United Kingdom, in war zones and in other parts where the British Armed Forces operate abroad. They are not like the rest of the Civil Service, and nor would it be a major cost to the Civil Service scheme were this anomaly to be rectified in the Bill. In the other areas of the Bill in which I am interested as regards the local government scheme, the Minister has been pretty flexible over many aspects, which I applaud—and he will, I hope, be more flexible later this afternoon. However, I am surprised that he cannot see that this is an issue on which the Government could easily concede; it would meet with huge approval, would cost very little and would correct an anomaly that has been there for some time but does not need to be aggravated by raising the normal statutory retirement age, which the rest of the Bill does.

I ask—I plead with—the Minister, if he is not prepared to accept the amendment, to take it away again and consider it seriously, because in this respect his civil servants, whether in the Ministry of Defence or the Treasury, are not serving him well. We should have found a way through this. We should find a way this afternoon to ensure that the position of this group of workers is recognised and reflected in statute.

My Lords, perhaps I should briefly join the debate because my report has been cited by my noble friend. I echo the comments of my noble friends and support their argument. I ask your Lordships’ House to indulge me if I revisit some of the issues from my report. It talked about the uniformed services in general, not about whether you happened to be in the Civil Service scheme or any other scheme. I talked about uniformed services—firefighters, police and the Armed Forces. My report made a simple argument that the nature of their service is unique and should be reflected in the pension arrangements that we make for them.

I have to say that if, during the course of my inquiry, I had known about the unique circumstances of the MoD firefighters, I would have referred specifically to them in my report and urged the Government to show some flexibility, support and sympathy for the special role that they play within our Armed Forces. Sadly, this issue was not drawn to my attention, so I did not make any specific recommendations about the MoD firefighters or the MoD police. If I had known about it, I certainly would have done so.

I am sympathetic to the Minister’s position. I am sure that his officials have told him that enormous complexity is involved in changing the normal pensionable age for this group of workers. However, I ask the Minister to remind himself—I know what a decent and honourable person he is—of the fact that this is fundamentally a matter of fairness and of the need to approach the issue in the right way. I do not believe that there is any substantive technical reason why we cannot look again at the role of the MoD firefighters and the MoD Police. If there is a technical issue it has to be addressed on the face of the Bill, as my noble friend suggested, or in the scheme regulations or the discussions with the relevant trade unions. Surely there has to be a way of doing the right thing for these people. The MoD firefighters currently happen to be in the Civil Service pension scheme, which has a higher retirement age than the firefighters scheme or the Armed Forces scheme. It is incumbent on us to address that issue and not to use the technical arguments as an excuse for not addressing this fundamental discrepancy.

I am not familiar with the history of all this—I am sure that there is a lot of history to it—but I wish that it had been raised with me, as I would have referred to it in my final report in the way that I have suggested. However, we now have an opportunity to do the right thing for these people, and I hope that this House takes the right course.

My Lords, these amendments reflect an issue about which I know many noble Lords feel strongly. Before I address the amendments themselves, perhaps I may remind the House of the context and the background.

These forces are made up of civil servants directly employed by the Ministry of Defence. Although there are some similarities with their counterparts in the Home Office police and the local authority fire and rescue services, their terms and conditions of employment are set by the Ministry of Defence and are therefore materially different in many respects. As civil servants they benefit from provisions which are not available to their non-MoD counterparts, such as the Civil Service compensation scheme, injury benefit provisions, relocation and leave allowances. The amendments being suggested would fundamentally alter the status of these individuals and that should not be carried out lightly.

I should remind the House that, as civil servants, individuals joining these forces currently have access to the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme. This means that since 2007 those joining these forces have had a normal pension age of 65. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, would reduce that pension age to 60. He has already referred to this argument, but I shall make it again. Such a reduction in pension age runs counter to the Government’s aim of managing the risks associated with increasing longevity. It would also make these workforces unique in seeing a five-year decrease in their pension age as a result of these reforms.

Furthermore, there are a number of problems associated with the specific amendments that have been proposed. First, it is not clear how the amendments proposed by the Opposition would be implemented. The institutional architecture required for these workforces to become part of the non-MoD fire and police schemes would need to be established, bringing with it additional cost. The non-MoD fire and police schemes are locally administered and early work suggests that in order to include the DFRS and MDP in these schemes, equivalents of elected police commissioners and fire authorities would need to be established for these forces. The schemes are also discussed and established through fora which the MoD forces do not participate in, and which are not designed to cater for them, such as the Police Negotiating Board.

The amendment would also split the remuneration of these individuals so that their pay and other conditions are controlled by the Ministry of Defence while their pension entitlement would be set by either the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Home Office. This will potentially place financial risks on the Ministry of Defence over which it has no control and, more importantly, would prohibit the MoD from taking a view on appropriate remuneration for these forces in the round.

However, the Government are not deaf to the concerns of the House. I have listened carefully to the arguments for providing these groups with additional protection. I have, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, mentioned, also met representatives from the groups themselves to hear their concerns. One of the issues that they highlighted was that as SRA and NRA increases in the decades ahead, the disparity between their retirement age and that of their civilian counterparts would be increased and their retirement age would move towards 68. They believe that such further increases in retirement age would be unfair and unreasonable, and I agree. Therefore, I held discussions with colleagues in the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence. As a result, the Ministry of Defence pledged to look at appropriate ways in which the issue could be managed so that retirement at 65 could be maintained in the new pension schemes established by the Bill when they are implemented in 2015.

This is a sensible way for the issue to be resolved. The details of these changes should be discussed by the employer and their employees, and, for the MDP in particular, in conjunction with the consideration already under way of their wider terms and conditions. In the light of these arguments, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Well, my Lords, we got the answer that we all feared. We were told that somehow the unique position of an injustice is such that the injustice should be maintained. We were told that it was not clear how the changes could be implemented. “It’s just too jolly complicated. Our staff aren’t up to it. We haven’t got enough civil servants who can puzzle through all these problems. There is no way through”. That is ridiculous.

We were told that somehow these firefighters would have to be transferred to other pension schemes. I am afraid that that is not the case. Civil Service pension schemes are flexible and perfectly able, as currently structured, to take into account differing retirement ages.

We then heard the proposition that the differential—the unfairness—should be fixed at five years’-worth of unfairness, with the retirement age of MoD firefighters and police being kept at 65. Apparently this is not too difficult to implement. We can find a way to fix the retirement age at 65 but we cannot find a way to fix it at 60. I am afraid that the Minister has significantly reduced the credibility of his own arguments.

He also completely failed to address two fundamental points. He failed to answer the question: in what way do the working conditions of Ministry of Defence firefighters differ from those of local authority firefighters? He failed to take into consideration that the majority of MoD firefighters are forced to retire before the age of 60 because of physical and other health reasons. He also failed to take into account the point made by my noble friend Lord Hutton that this is a fundamental issue of fairness. Given that that is the position, we owe it to Ministry of Defence firefighters and police to agree this amendment. I urge noble Lords to do so and beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Schedule 2 : Responsible authorities

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Schedule 2, page 23, line 30, leave out from “servants” to end of line 31

My Lords, the amendments in this group bring the Bill into line with the Government’s announced policy on judicial pensions. They recognise the special constitutional position of the judiciary and have been tabled in response to the Delegated Powers Committee’s 10th report. The report identified that the Bill will move some features of judicial pensions, which are currently provided for in primary legislation, into secondary legislation. Under the amendments, the pensions of the judiciary will be separated from the Civil Service scheme, of which they were originally going to form part.

The regulations governing pensions for the judiciary will be made by the Lord Chancellor, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland where this is appropriate. Scheme regulations will also require the consent of the Treasury. In addition, in order to recognise the move from a basis in primary legislation to one in secondary legislation for some elements of scheme design, scheme regulations will attract the affirmative procedure. The exception to this will be cases where the pension board for the scheme deems the regulations to have either a minor or a wholly beneficial effect. The judiciary will be represented on this board. As a final change, we have amended the Bill so that the Lord Chancellor’s role in making pension schemes for the judiciary becomes a protected function. This means that any future machinery of government changes will not change the fact that the responsibility for these pensions will remain with the Lord Chancellor.

The amendments that I have described represent a reasonable balance between the importance of recognising the judiciary as having a particular and special role within our constitution and ensuring that the Bill continues to provide a consistent and coherent framework for public service pensions. An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of any modern democracy. It must be able to carry out its role without interference from government. These wide-ranging reforms to all public service pensions, which will impact on judicial remuneration, in no way diminish that fundamental constitutional role. Judges will be as free to uphold the law, to interpret the will of Parliament and to rule against the Government of the day after these reforms as they were previously. Indeed, judges have the protection of the affirmative procedure, which means that Parliament, not government, will have the final say on any major changes.

Amendments 26 and 27 address a separate issue about some individuals who have worked for the residential property tribunal. It has emerged that some of them may be provided with pensions under the Rent Act 1977 and may not be covered by the provisions of the Bill. This amendment clarifies that these individuals should be included within the scope of the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment 3 agreed.

Amendment 4

Moved by

4: Schedule 2, page 23, line 33, leave out sub-paragraph (2) and insert—

“1A (1) Scheme regulations for the judiciary may be made by the Lord Chancellor.

(2) Before making scheme regulations in relation to an office with a jurisdiction exercised exclusively in relation to Scotland, the Lord Chancellor must consult the Secretary of State.”

Amendment 4 agreed.

Clause 3 : Scheme regulations

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: Clause 3, page 2, line 13, leave out paragraph (b)

My Lords, the government amendments in this group concern powers, which have been previously debated at length, to amend primary legislation and to make retrospective changes. I am hopeful that both sets of amendments will be well received across the House.

The amendments on powers to amend legislation follow on in particular from the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee. As the Delegated Powers Committee noted, the Bill as drafted contains “unrestricted” powers to amend primary legislation. The committee did not see a justification for such a wide scope to make changes without full parliamentary scrutiny. It recommended that the powers be limited to being able to amend existing primary legislation for consequential and consistency purposes only. We have looked at this, and agree with the committee.

While the powers currently mimic those in the Superannuation Act 1972, the predecessor to this Bill, there is no evidence of the powers being used for anything beyond consequential amendments in the past. We do not envisage a scenario where wider use would be needed in the future. The amendments therefore reduce the scope in line with the Delegated Powers Committee’s recommendations. The powers can be used only for consequential changes to current Acts, including changes that are needed to achieve consistency.

I should make clear that the amendments do not remove the power to amend primary legislation completely, since such a power is essential to bridge any gaps between pre-existing primary legislation and the scheme regulations, but they significantly reduce the scope of the powers to be used in ways that the committee felt could not be justified. I hope that this strikes a balance that the House can support.

The powers to make retrospective changes were also mentioned in the Delegated Powers Committee’s report, although it did not make any specific recommendations in this case. However, we have discussed these retrospective powers in detail in your Lordships’ House on a number of occasions, and I hope we are approaching a resolution that everybody can support.

Our amendments take account of amendments tabled at earlier stages by the noble Lords, Lord Eatwell and Lord Whitty, both of whom also have amendments on the Marshalled List today. I hope they feel that we have been able to take account of their arguments as we work through the detail in this complicated but vital area. As I think we all agree, we must get this absolutely right and I hope the House will feel that our amendments achieve that.

As I have set out before, powers to make retrospective changes can be required for several reasons. Usually they are required to make minor or technical operational changes to allow the schemes to run efficiently, often for the benefit of members. They may also be used to make retrospective changes that are part of wider negotiations and which increase the likelihood of the Government and their employees reaching agreement on a package of reforms. Therefore, the Government firmly believe that such powers are necessary and should not be restricted.

However, the Government recognise that if there are insufficient protections against using these powers in an unfair way, even if we have no intention of doing so, this could damage members’ confidence in these reforms. That is why we have brought forward the new clause contained in Amendment 36 and the associated consequential amendments.

Amendment 36 implements a consent lock for any retrospective changes to pensions that have “significant adverse effects” on members. Members or their representatives would have to agree to such changes. Significance is a low but appropriate threshold—one that is on the whole favourable to members and not the responsible authority. It has already been used in the Bill and by some noble Lords in their own amendments. I note that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in this area refers similarly to “material” effects. If I may say so, he and I are talking about the same thing.

Indeed, our amendments mean that material or significant retrospective changes would require the consent of the members who are affected, or their representatives. Amendment 36 therefore provides an extremely strong form of protection against the unfair use of retrospective powers. It will give members who are significantly adversely affected, or their representatives, a veto on any such changes. The requirements to follow the affirmative procedure and to lay a report to Parliament will also continue to apply to safeguard wider interests, including those of the House.

The consent requirement will apply to changes that have a significant adverse effect on the pensions of all scheme members, whether active, deferred or pensioners. That means that they go further than the protections against retrospective changes in many existing schemes, including the NHS, local government and teachers’ schemes. They provide unambiguous protections for all members, not just deferred and pensioner members.

However, the consent lock will not apply to retrospective changes that have a significant adverse effect on non-pension benefits, such as injury and compensation schemes. Such benefits will continue to be protected instead by the enhanced consultation procedure of Clause 22. That clause requires consultation with a view to reaching agreement, a report to the appropriate legislature, and the affirmative procedure.

Injury and compensation schemes cover people by virtue of their particular employment, not whether they happen to be members of a public service pension scheme. The persons covered do not accrue an entitlement throughout their career in the same way as a pension, but rather receive benefits that are calculated at the point of claim. Moreover, those schemes are entirely funded by the employer with no employee contribution. We therefore think that a veto power over changes to injury and compensation schemes that might in some cases be regarded as retrospective would give disproportionate influence to members. None the less, I should make clear that reforms to current injury and compensation schemes are not contemplated by this Bill.

I therefore hope that the House will be able to support these amendments. I believe that they provide excellent reassurance to members that the retrospective powers will not, and indeed now cannot, be used in ways to which they do not consent.

I hope that the House will find it helpful if I speak to the other amendments in the group. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would restrict the scope of powers to make retrospective changes such that they could make only non-material changes. As I have said, we believe that the scope of those powers should not be categorically restricted. Flexibility can be desirable—I mentioned the possibility of members consenting to significant changes if they are part of a wider negotiating package—and it is much more important that we give members a fair say in what affects them. Our amendments do that, with a veto power no less. So, in the light of our amendments, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is unnecessary.

The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Davidson, would take away the clear responsibility of the responsible authorities to make a judgment on the effect of retrospective changes. It is not entirely clear who would take a view instead, but it might well end up being the courts. The difficulty here is that these are decisions—what is significant and who is affected?—that require a clear decision in order to start the right consultative process. Someone has to take a view on the nature of the effects in good faith. In our view, the authority is best placed to do that, given that it operates the schemes and would initiate and implement any changes.

Public authorities should not be held to unrealistic standards of judgment. That is inefficient, encourages inaction or excessive litigation, and hampers their ability to deliver their public functions. Not all effects will be so clear cut as to leave no room for disagreement, so it is right to leave a small margin of safety.

If responsible authorities do not exercise their judgment reasonably, they do so at their own risk. Of course, members can always challenge the decisions of the responsible authority on this point as part of the consultation, or even in the courts. So there is no justification or incentive for the authority to act irresponsibly or without good faith. Although I can understand the reason why these amendments have been tabled, I fear that I cannot support them.

However, I hope that the House is reassured that just because there is a small element of subjectivity, that does not mean that the way is open for the responsible authority to act in an arbitrary manner. More importantly, I hope that the House will agree that the Government’s amendments on retrospection provide excellent protections to members.

The Government have listened carefully on this topic and have brought forward sensible amendments inspired by previous amendments tabled by Members on the other side of the House, and I urge noble Lords to support them.

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I refer to the amendments tabled in the name of myself and my noble and learned friend Lord Davidson, since the government amendments are substantially responses to the points that we made in Committee. I want to make it clear why we feel that the situation has, let us say, not moved on far enough.

Let me deal first with Amendments 37, 38 and 39 because they make a proper, logical story. They seek to remove from Amendment 36 the role of the authority in deciding whether an adverse effect on the pensions payable has in fact occurred. In other words, the authority has to decide whether its measures should be challenged in consultation. This is as if, in a game involving Manchester United, penalty decisions against it were to be made by Sir Alex Ferguson. I am sure that he, as a talented football manager, would then make a decision on a reasonable basis. However, with all due respect to that distinguished person, do we think that these decisions would be made in a way which was balanced? I could choose any other football manager, including Mr Wenger, who apparently never sees things that happen on football pitches.

I refer to balance because in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Newby, in setting out the criteria that he applied in these circumstances, said that he wanted to achieve a sensible balance between members’ protection and the role of the authority. It seems that while the proposed new clause in Amendment 36 provides for a significant protection for members of the scheme, it is still not balanced in that it leaves the authority with the responsibility for deciding that its own measures have had an adverse effect on those members. In those circumstances, even the most reasonable person is likely to be reluctant to feel that measures which they are taking have a negative impact upon the scheme. Our amendments simply remove the role of the authority so that the new clause would say,

“containing retrospective provision which appears … to have significant adverse effects”.

In those circumstances it seems to me that the authority, facing the responsibilities that the noble Lord referred to, and without the protection of the statute giving it the decision-making responsibility—a decision-making role or power—would take a more balanced and reasonable view. These amendments are to encourage reasonableness on behalf of the authority.

Moving backwards, our Amendments 22 and 23 refer to what is now Clause 12, which deals with the employer cost cap. The problem with this clause is in subsection (7), where it is recognised that steps to change the cost cap may result in an,

“increase or decrease of members’ benefits or contributions”.

In other words it may decrease members’ benefits so that the action of using the cost cap to encourage efficiency and efficient management of pension schemes may result in the retrospective diminution of benefits which members feel that they have accumulated.

The key question is whether Amendment 36 covers that eventuality. The eventuality that it covers is,

“where … the responsible authority proposes to make scheme regulations containing retrospective provision”.

Changing the cost cap may have retrospective consequences but does not contain retrospective provision. Much as we welcome the general intent of Amendment 36, then, it does not deal with one of the significant cases of retrospection that still deface the Bill. Amendments 22 and 23 are designed to protect the benefits of pensioners against retrospective effect, perhaps unintentional, when there is some change in the cost cap. We are delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, here performing duties that were formerly performed for him.

Those two amendments are necessary unless the Minister can find a way for Amendment 36 to refer not simply to regulations containing retrospective provisions but to regulations that have retrospective consequences. That would be a way, I suggest, to transform Amendment 36 from a rather imperfect structure to one that would deal with retrospection throughout the Bill.

The amendments that I and my noble and learned friend have tabled are in the spirit of Amendment 36 and indeed of the Government’s laudable attempts to remove the retrospective elements—the ones, that is, which are unnecessary and potentially harmful to members; I understand that there are technical retrospective elements that are necessary—but I feel that they have not yet managed to achieve what the whole House wishes to achieve. Our amendments would contribute to that goal.

My Lords, I should be grateful if the Minister could comment on the extent and the manner to which the Government’s amendments to the ability to make changes and to make retrospective changes affect the fundamental issue of affordability. I apologise for raising this issue yet again but it is fundamental. We start, as everyone knows, from the OBR advising that there will be a cash flow deficit of £15.4 billion by 2016-17. My related question to the Minister is: what is the Government’s estimate of the additional cash flow deficit costs of both increasing longevity and, more particularly, the new single-tier pension proposals made by the DWP? It strikes me that two separate silos have been working on this, with the Treasury in one and the DWP in the other. Precisely what the effects of the loss of employer and employee NI contributions and the ending of contracting out will be on the deficit of pay-as-you-go public sector schemes seems to some extent to be a mystery.

I think it was in Committee that the Minister advised that he felt the estimates I suggested were too high; thus I would be grateful if he would comment on what the Government’s estimates are. My revised estimates, done with the assistance of Michael Johnson, who many noble Lords will know has done significant work on the subject, are that there is an additional cash flow cost from longer longevity of the order of £2 billion per annum, and there may now be an additional £3.4 billion resulting from the loss of public sector employers’ NIC rebates with the ending of contracting out and a further £4 billion per annum as a result of public sector employees continuing to enjoy an enhanced occupational pension as if contracted out while still being entitled to further accruals under the new single-tier state pension, once it appears. In contrast, private sector employers who are contracted out will be permitted to change their scheme rules, effectively to reduce pensions paid, without trustee consent. As I have said, I cannot believe that the prospect of a potential cash flow deficit of some £24 billion per annum will be acceptable to whoever is in power at that stage, given the state of the public finances. Dare I say that it seems that not only the Opposition but the Government are ignoring the affordability issue with regard to this legislation as it passes through both Houses of Parliament?

I would be grateful for a response to the question about to what extent room for manoeuvre is being reduced by the government amendments. Secondly, what is the Government’s revised, post-OBR estimate of the total cash flow deficit cost of the arrangements under the Bill?

My Lords, as the Minister said, I have Amendments 7, 31 and 35 in this group. I should explain that for the remainder of the discussion of the Bill on Report I am likely to be seeing it through the perspective of the Local Government Pension Scheme which, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, is a funded scheme, not a pay-as-you-go scheme, and, moreover, a funded scheme that has recently reached agreement between the trade unions and the LGA, sanctioned by the CLG and the Treasury, on a new cost-management structure. I therefore think the costs of any limit on retrospection in that scheme are unlikely to arise. I probably should declare that I am an honorary vice-president of the LGA and a member of the GMB, although I have no pecuniary interest in the pensions covered by the LGPS. I was also, until recently, chair of one of its schemes.

The Minister deserves considerable credit for moving significantly on this front. It is clear that what appeared to be quite an open-ended ability to amend primary and secondary legislation in the original text of the Bill has been significantly modified by the changes which he has proposed and the procedures that he has outlined, particularly in relation to Amendment 36. It would be nice if he could go a little further, particularly in respect of two points. Amendment 7 would effectively prevent retrospective changes for non-administrative reasons that had a material detriment for any members of the scheme. The reference in Amendment 36 to “significant adverse effects” sounds like a significantly higher threshold than “material detriment”. Does the Minister think there is a real distinction there? Could some quite serious detriment in effect occur without triggering Amendment 36? I would hope not, but I would like some on-the-record reassurance on that point.

My noble friend Lord Eatwell has already raised my second point. There is a “judge and jury” problem with Amendment 36 but, in general, I welcome the clause. The procedure is sensible and the associated amendments are likely to be able to deal with the situation, if anything, slightly better than the procedural amendments that I have tabled. However, there is an issue as to whether a detriment is in the eyes of one party rather than appearing to be a detriment to any objective observer. That could be a cause, in the long run, for a serious lack of trust in whether Amendment 36 and its associated amendments really meet the point.

The Minister has gone a long way, and I congratulate him on that. I do not want to appear too narky about where we are but he could still make some improvements, some of them by giving clearer assurances today both on the point about material detriment and on the unilateral definition of “appears” which seems to arise in Amendment 36. Two and a half cheers for the Minister. He could make me happier were his response to my noble friend Lord Eatwell’s points and mine to be constructive today.

My Lords, I am pleased that I am moving in the right direction, at least as far as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is concerned.

On the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, there are two differences between the Alex Ferguson situation and the one that we are discussing. First, while he could of course be relied upon to act impartially in every circumstance, he is not given that freedom. There are a referee and various other officials on the pitch, taking decisions on a second-by-second basis. There is an authority; it is just not him. The noble Lord is concerned about what happens if that authority then acts improperly or unreasonably—if, say, the referee blatantly misses a series of handballs in the penalty area. The answer is that if there is a sense that the authority is behaving improperly, it has an oversight body: the courts. The authorities cannot just make arbitrary decisions, let alone unfair ones, without acting in good faith. If they do act unreasonably, they are also acting unlawfully. It is right that the responsibility lies with them, as they operate the schemes. Somebody has to make an initial decision. The underlying implication of what the noble Lord is saying is that the authorities will act in a malevolent way to do down scheme members. I do not believe that they will, or that that is the history.

My Lords, on a point of information, in the LGPS we make a clear distinction between an employing authority and an administering authority, the latter being the equivalent of a quasi-trustee body, whereas this seems to imply the employing authority— that is, the local authority. If it were the administering authority, I think that we would be slightly more reassured.

My Lords, I simply do not know the answer to that question. I will have to write to the noble Lord. I hope that, in doing so, I will be able to reassure him.

I turn to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, on the cost cap. Its operation has been extensively discussed here and I hope that noble Lords were reassured that we will not seek to use it to reduce accrued benefits. If noble Lords have not been reassured, I hope I can reassure them now by setting out the Government’s own detailed amendments on retrospective provisions and protections.

As I have stated, the new clause on retrospective protections will require that retrospective changes to pension benefits with significant adverse effects be subject to the consent of members or their representatives. This would include changes made as a result of the operation of the cost cap. I have already made clear that adjustments to benefits or contributions under the cost cap would not be retrospective. The new clause, set out in Amendment 36, also provides protections to this effect. First, there would be the procedure set out in Clause 12(6) for reaching agreement on changes that are contingent on the operation of that mechanism. Then, when scheme regulations were made to give effect to those agreed changes, those regulations would require consent for any provisions that were retrospective and had significant adverse effects on pensions.

Given this, I hope that noble Lords are convinced that Amendment 23 is not necessary either. As the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, himself said in previous debates, this would be a belt-and-braces provision to provide further protection to members in the event that the cost cap is triggered. There is no need for this additional protection because the response to the cost cap calls for the approval of the members themselves. If that response were to involve a retrospective change with a serious adverse effect, the implementing provisions in scheme regulations would also require consent. So the belt and braces are already in the Bill, were that extremely unlikely scenario ever to happen. In these circumstances and with these reassurances, I hope noble Lords will not press their amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Flight, asked a couple of questions about whether the changes relating to restricting retrospection would reduce the Government’s ability retrospectively to reduce provisions and thus make it easier, in his view, to get the costs under control. The problem about that from a legal point of view—leaving aside whether it is desirable in practice—is that tinkering with accrued rights falls foul of human rights legislation and the Government have made it absolutely clear that they have no intention of going down that road. On the question of figures in Michael Johnson’s report, the Government simply do not recognise them. The House should be reassured that the costings for these reforms and the single tier have been fully worked through. If, at some stage in the future, the schemes appear unfinanceable, we have the cost cap; that is the whole purpose of having a cost cap. If his worse fears were borne out—and, as I say, we do not recognise the figures that Michael Johnson has produced—

I thank the Minister for giving way. He says that the Treasury does not recognise the figures in Michael Johnson’s helpful report, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Flight. Could he say what figures it does recognise because, clearly, the proposals for the single tier pension and the impact on contracted-out contributions came after the development of the public sector pensions and after the OBR report? There has to be a figure, given that he does not recognise that quoted by my noble friend, so what figure do the Government estimate it to be?

The best way of dealing with this is by writing to the noble Baroness to explain how the Government believe that the proposals for the single-tier pension can be accommodated within the finances we think are available. I do not believe that a single figure here deals adequately with it, but we will write to her. We have not had a huge amount of time to analyse Michael Johnson’s figures, but on first sight, they do not look like ones that we can follow.

As regards the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and whether “material” is different from “significant”, is one a higher bar than the other? As I said earlier, we believe that they are virtually synonymous. We do not believe that material is of a lesser or greater value than significant. Therefore, we do not think that there needs to be any concern in that respect.

Amendment 31 would require that any change to scheme regulations undergoes consultation with a view to reaching agreement. I understand why the noble Lord is concerned that there should be meaningful consultation with scheme members and their representatives when scheme regulations are made. The Government carry out consultations for a number of reasons. While it is always good to have agreement, this will not always be the appropriate focus. Pensions are complex issues and regulatory changes may often be needed for minor and technical reasons. It surely would be impractical for the Government to undergo a more onerous consultation process every time a minor change was made. Moreover, this amendment is not necessary to ensure that this consultation is meaningful. This already is a mandatory requirement of any consultation process. If any stakeholder felt that a consultation was not meaningful or fair they could challenge this in court.

Amendment 35 goes somewhat further than Amendment 36. It would require that any change to scheme regulations after the first set of regulations has been made should follow the higher standard of consultation and reporting requirements set out in Clause 22. As I have said previously, this would be simply impractical. Amendments to scheme regulations can be made for a wide range of reasons down to the most minor of changes. It cannot be right that the more extensive provisions in Clause 22 should apply to every circumstance. Very often these changes are to the benefit of members and I am sure that any delay in implementing such beneficial changes because of the legal requirement to carry out the kinds of consultation set out in Clause 22 would not be seen by members in a positive light. I hope that noble Lords can understand why such a blanket requirement would not be in anyone’s interest. The Government already are committed to proportionate levels of consultation on all scheme regulations, which is the appropriate and responsible course of action.

Amendment 35 would also change Clause 22 so that, instead of setting a high bar for changing the protected elements, it would be illegal to make any such change unless the members or their representatives consent. I fully understand the concerns of some members and their representatives around these issues but, again, such a blunt instrument does not seem to me to be a particularly sensible way forward.

The Government have committed themselves to the reformed schemes as they have been negotiated and they are even now working hard with members and their representatives to ensure that these are implemented by 2015. The Government believe that the deal which has been put in place is one which should stand for 25 years, perhaps longer. It is an arrangement which represents a good outcome for both individual members and the taxpayer. The provisions of this clause are intended to reflect that commitment. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would go far beyond that and would seek to bind all future Governments over the next 25 years in a way that this House does not tend to endorse.

None of us can foresee the future. I will reiterate again that the Government see no reason why these pensions should not still be fit for purpose in a quarter of a century from now. However, the responsible course of action is to ensure that, if any future Government were to take a different view, for whatever reason, strong but appropriate processes are put in place to protect scheme members and to scrutinise the rationale for any changes they might seek to make. But the protections must strike a fair balance between the interests of the taxpayer and members. The Government do not believe that this can be achieved by allowing members to veto any change to scheme design, contribution rates and benefits. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able not to move his amendment.

Amendment 5 agreed.

Amendment 6

Moved by

6: Clause 3, page 2, line 15, at end insert (but see section (Procedure for retrospective provision))

Amendment 6 agreed.

Amendment 7 not moved.

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: Clause 3, page 2, line 16, at end insert—

“( ) The consequential provision referred to in subsection (2)(b) includes consequential provision amending any primary legislation passed before or in the same session as this Act (as well as consequential provision amending any secondary legislation).”

Amendment 8 agreed.