Report (1st Day) (Continued)
13: Clause 2, page 2, line 34, at end insert—
“( ) 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.”
My Lords, Amendment 13 takes us back to issues of education. The amendment focuses on the narrow aspects of our prior debate, namely a route to having financial education added to the primary school curriculum and having the Ofsted process take into account the extent to which financial education is provided in schools. These proposals were recommendations of the House of Lords Financial Exclusion Select Committee, as so much of our debate has been. Our debates both in the Select Committee and in Committee went wider than this, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in particular was a strong proponent of the benefit of financial education. Given the limited ability to make financial education effectively compulsory in all schools, the recommendation of the Select Committee was viewed as a practical way of effecting this so far as possible.
Noble Lords may recall that we had a positive response from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. We were told that we would get a reply to the recommendations in due course and that discussions had already taken place with the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion about joint working with the Minister for Education to take forward the recommendations of the report and to dismiss concerns, particularly those about primary school education. As that was more than three months ago, perhaps the Minister can update us on progress. I beg to move.
My Lords, as a member of that committee, I support this amendment. This is different from some of the other amendments that have come under Clause 2(7), because this is really already there as far as schools go, but it just falls short of doing what it should. For instance it talks about the “provision of financial education” and then says,
“working with others in the financial services”.
Your Lordships might sympathise with what Martin Lewis says:
“We do not ask GlaxoSmithKline to pay for chemistry. This is on the national curriculum. Why are we asking banks to pay for it?”.
Why are we asking financial institutions? I am perfectly happy that, as the Minister will say, “Yes, we do ask them and they do something”, but it is really small and does not begin to touch.
Here are just a few statistics to show why we are talking about education. I will not try to bore your Lordships with them all, but they put this into perspective: 40% of the working population have less than £100 in savings; one in six struggle to identify a single bank balance; around a third of the population, 17 million, cannot even manage a budget; and 26% of postgraduates —that is all—are confident in managing their money. The excellent FCA report which came out at the weekend also shows why it is important. I will come to education in schools in a minute, which is fairly horrifying, but the report says:
“Adults with postgraduate degrees are just as likely to feel uncertain about their abilities as those educated to GCSE level”.
So, with all due respect, there is simply nothing going on. Many do not understand the excessive interest rates on unauthorised overdrafts, for example, or revolving credit card balances and the interest rates that are put on those. They do not understand payday loans very much—although it is interesting to note, since we were ready to condemn them, that payday loans are actually cheaper than some of the other loans available, which is quite surprising. That is not because payday loans are cheap but because interest rates on credit cards and unauthorised overdrafts are not only ridiculous but incredibly unfair, as they do not even notify you. At least when you take out a payday loan, you know that you have borrowed £1,000. With most banks, you would not have a clue until you got the bill. So the question is not straightforward. These statistics are all true; they come from evidence that we took and the survey that I just mentioned, showing how very poor the understanding of basic financial matters is in this country. We are way behind others, including, I believe, China.
This whole problem ultimately causes so much unhappiness and stress and will mean a higher cost than otherwise to the welfare state, purely because of the number of people who could have managed but do not because no one told them how. It is all due to a single cause: the lack of financial education in schools. The Bill talks about,
“the provision of financial education to children and young people”.
Where are children and young people, and where are you going to educate them? Even I went to a school, and that is the only place where you have them all in one place. You do not honestly think that on a Saturday, instead of going to the cinema, they will go to a class on financial education. So there is only one place for it: the schoolroom. You have only to add “in school” to the wording and you almost have the amendment as it stands.
Financial education could be introduced into primary schools. However, although we are aware that there is some excellent work in primary schools—the Minister may come back and say, “There are good stories about primary schools because they teach people things”, and they do—in answer to question 179 in our evidence transcript, Adrian Lyons of Ofsted, who was incredibly useful and very nice about it, said of ex-primary schoolchildren,
“but then the children go to secondary school and hit a brick wall”.
That completely sums it up. What a condemnation that is from Ofsted itself.
What of the addition of financial education to the secondary school curriculum in 2014? The first point is that to most sane people a curriculum is what people have to learn. Believe it or not, though, there are actually two curriculums, one non-statutory and the other, the national one, statutory. You have got it in one: this is on the non-statutory curriculum, because it lies within the PSHE programme. It gets worse, as only 35% of state schools come under that so-called curriculum—all the free schools and academies are outside it. We need not say that financial education is being taught in schools as a curriculum subject; clearly it is not, as we would understand it, and it definitely does not go anywhere.
Financial education lies within PSHE subjects but they are not statutory. Guess what happens. Time devoted to PSHE has been reduced by 32% since 2011 because it is non-statutory and there is not enough time for it. Why? One reason for that was suggested by the PSHE representative, who said that schools,
“have so little time for it”,
characterising the situation as follows:
“We only have 20 minutes, and if we don’t do something on sexual exploitation or online safety we’re going to be in trouble over safeguarding”.
To all intents and purposes, that is the end of your secondary school financial education. Adrian Lyons said that Ofsted produces a state-of-the-nation education report. Our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked,
“how much was there on financial education in the last one?”.
Mr Lyons’s answer was:
“I do not know the answer to that, but I would be surprised if there was any, to be honest”.
I think we know that it was zero.
Here we have something that is all about life skills. After all, school, at the end of the day, is concerned with life skills. You are not going to survive on geography alone; you are not going to survive on physics or other things alone. We are talking about very basic financial management; we are not talking about pensions. We are saying: if you save one sweet every day until the end of the week, you will get five sweets; and if you want to borrow five sweets from me, you can pay me 10 next week. As a foundation, it is as simple as that, but the inspectorate does not even look at it. This amendment could change all that.
Of course, Ofsted says that you cannot judge something—I seem to think that this is how it puts it—without having exam marks, and there are no exam marks here. Ofsted is about marking schools. It is also about encouraging schools to do the right thing and to teach life skills, so why not initially find a way of saying, “Do you teach financial education? How much do you teach? Okay, we’ll give you 10 points for that”. At least that would be an incentive to do what they should.
When we talked about education in schools, every reason under the sun was given for why they would not or could not do it. We did not have the teachers in front of us. I am terribly sympathetic about teachers’ time, so I am not getting at them. There is no time. Teachers are not confident to teach this subject but, as I have said, we are talking about the basics. Any teacher on a salary is going to know something about saving or spending or not having enough money or whatever. I just do not believe that that is the reason.
The FCA book shows a really poor record on everything, yet schools are the only place where we have young people’s attention. What are we meant to be doing? If we say that schools should not be the place—we have already had several amendments turned down because they were too well defined or because they have added too many lines—where should it be? It is not going to be in church, so I suggest that it should be in schools and that we do something to make sure that it is done; otherwise, it will not be done. When we talk to people about where it might be done, why it is not done and the problems with that, it is somebody else’s problem. No doubt we will be told that it is the education board’s problem, or whatever there is. I am telling noble Lords that that is passing the buck. The sooner we get “schools” written in the Bill, the better.
My Lords, I will add just a brief comment in this area, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has really made the case. A few years ago, when I was dealing much more with banking institutions, one of them very proudly showed me its pack for schools. All that I came away with was that its logo and colours were all over everything. Had this been presented to an adult, they would have regarded it as a sales pitch rather than an educational tool. That was rather worrying. We are moving into an era where there is huge disruption of all the traditional players. On a personal basis, many of the people making decisions to save or borrow will be looking at many of the new disrupters—the challengers, the peer-to-peers, the digital bodies and whatever else. If we are looking towards the handful of major high-street players to be the providers of financial education, particularly to the young, they will not be introducing that world, which they very much regard as threatening. Yet that is the world of the future that our youngsters will have to deal with. The Government have to be very cautious about the how they use providers as a delivery instrument for this education.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, for his contribution to this debate. It is a pity that there were not more people in the Chamber to hear the powerful case that he made.
Actually, I do not think that the Minister has responded yet—my apologies.
My Lords, I echo the wise words of the noble Viscount. It is absolutely clear that the level of financial education across the country is woefully low, and that stems from the absence of any financial education at the schooling stage. When I was looking at introducing some pension issues into the national curriculum, the main message that I received as to why it could not happen was that teachers themselves did not know enough about those issues to be able to teach even primary or secondary schoolchildren.
There is clearly a role for the single financial guidance body, which is set up to provide information and education for the public, to devise modules that schools could use—but not only schools. I would hope that, given that most people in the workplace did not get financial education in school, such modules would also be useful within the workplace. This is a big gap in our education system. Education needs to provide our students and young people with the tools that they need to manage their lives. If they cannot manage their finances, they will often get into difficulties that they do not need to be in.
I certainly echo the sentiments of the amendment, which would require the single financial guidance body, as the obvious body to do this, to provide education materials that could be used within schools, but even importing that into the workplace alongside auto-enrolment, because all workers will automatically be put into pensions and need to have some understanding of how finance works in order to make the best of that. I support the sentiments expressed.
My Lords, I was hoping for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, was going to wind up the debate and give some cogent reasons why his amendment should be resisted, but that falls to me.
Amendment 13, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, would alter the strategic function on matters relating to financial education. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and my noble friend Lady Altmann for their contributions because, once again, we have highlighted the important issue of financial education, which has been one of the themes running through our debate today. We had a good debate on it in Committee, and there is no disagreement that financial education is extremely important at all stages of life.
In fact, a key role of the new body as a whole will be to improve people’s financial capability and help them to make better financial decisions. Clause 2(7) states:
“The strategic function is to support and co-ordinate the development of a national strategy to improve … the financial capability of members of public”.
Then there is the paragraph quoted by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough:
“the provision of financial education to children and young people”.
The noble Viscount outlined areas where the public need to be better informed, and I agree with all that he said.
The financial education element of the strategic function is targeting a specific area of need, which is to ensure that children and young people are supported at an early age on how to manage their finances—for example, by learning the benefits of budgeting and saving. As I think I said in response to an earlier debate, the new body will have a co-ordinating role to match funders with providers of financial education projects and initiatives aimed at children—those could well be in schools—and will ensure that they are targeted where evidence has shown them to be more effective. This falls four-square within the wider strategic financial capability work of the body, and should form part of the national strategy that we expect the body to deliver.
As has been mentioned, the Money Advice Service has been undertaking that role, and it is one aspect that respondents to the government consultation overwhelmingly agreed is important for the new body to continue to work on, build on, and continue the initiatives already under way.
The amendment makes provision for the new body to advise the Secretary of State on the role of Ofsted and the primary school curriculum. As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said, the Select Committee on Financial Exclusion made similar recommendations on the role of Ofsted and the primary school curriculum in its recent report. We will publish a direct response to the House of Lords ad hoc Select Committee report before Third Reading. The Department for Education, which has prime responsibility for this, will be a major contributor to that section of the response.
Again, as I said in Committee, the Government believe that the remit of the new body may cause confusion with regards to the school curriculum. Of course, it can work with schools to help children understand financial education and it can help fund lessons and explore further the barriers to school involvement. The Government are clear, however, that the school curriculum and monitoring of school performance are matters for the departments for education in England and in the devolved nations. Nevertheless, Clause 2(3) states:
“The single financial guidance body may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of its functions”.
It seems to me that there is nothing to stop the SFGB informally making suggestions to Ministers without the need for the amendment, as long as they relate to its functions. So I do not think that we need the amendment for there to be a dialogue between the SFGB and education providers. In practice, the body will be able to undertake activities to help schools provide financial education but we do not believe the amendment is an appropriate addition to the strategic function. For that reason, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
May I intervene for one second? I thank the Minister for his response. At one stage he said: “Well, we might get help, and it might be in schools. Maybe the education board will look at this and maybe the guidance authority will include this and this”. The whole thing is so wishy-washy. There are so many let-out clauses, I am simply not sure that it will happen.
That is a fair point, but I ask my noble friend to give the Government the benefit of the doubt until such time as we publish the response to the specific recommendations he has referred to. If he finds that the response is inadequate and does not meet his expectations, I am sure there will be further opportunities for him to raise it. The point has been well made during this debate that further progress should be made. There is an outstanding recommendation to which the Government are about to respond. I suggest that the amendment is withdrawn and the Government given an opportunity to put their case forward when they respond to the Select Committee.
My Lords, I apologise for my earlier precipitate attendance at the Dispatch Box. For a while, I was transported back to earlier times.
It is clear that we are all in agreement on the need for financial education to tackle the challenges we face. The best way to do it; what the focus should be; how it is going to be funded—these are all issues which will lead to significant debate. It was good to hear the passion of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. We heard it in the Select Committee and it was the noble Viscount himself who brought particular focus on that in the report. I am looking forward to the Government’s response, and doubtless the noble Viscount is as well—presumably before Third Reading. Perhaps we should keep our powder dry until we see it.
I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Kramer, for their support. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, widened the focus. It is not just about youngsters in schools, which is where, as the noble Viscount said, we have them, but in the workplace and beyond. This is difficult and challenging but no less important. I look forward to the response to the Select Committee report in due course, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
14: Clause 2, page 2, line 34, at end insert—
“( ) As part of undertaking its strategic function to improve the financial capability of members of the public, the single financial guidance body must carry out research on a periodic basis, in collaboration with other bodies with an interest in debt issues, to determine—(a) the level of unmanageable debt across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland,(b) the causes of unmanageable debt, and(c) ways to prevent unmanageable debt.”
My Lords, I am afraid that I return to the most overworked clause in the Bill, namely Clause 2, subsection (3) of which states:
“The single financial guidance body may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of its functions”.
Do Ministers genuinely think that that single provision can deal with the breadth of expectation that will be placed on the body, particularly as regards research? It is true that there is a power there, provided that it is “incidental”, whatever that means,
“or conducive to the exercise of its functions”.
Presumably, that can be tested in court if there is any doubt about what it means.
However, let us assume that Clause 2(3) provides the foundation on which a research function will be carried out by this body. The question is then threefold. First, a lot of research is being done in this area, which is all to the good. It is being done by the FCA, which we have talked about a lot, but many others do research which could be brought into scope in this area. Are we confident that the research being done by the commercial sector, banks, the FCA and the SFGB, if it should be able to fund that and start doing it, will fit well within that arrangement? Can Ministers assure us that there will be no blockage if this arrangement is the only way that a body can take that research forward? That is my first general point: do we have competence in this regard and is the constitution sufficient to carry it?
My second and third questions are about scale. Secondly, the problem with this is that we have a lot of information which could perhaps be collated by the body and made available in digestible form. The information that we have been talking about in the FCA report would be slightly indigestible if it was not for the very excellent graphics and graphs it produced which allow us to get into it and make it easier to understand and absorb. However, if we think about the range of issues that could be brought to bear in relation to problem debt and financial capability, we are talking about a very significant volume of activity and work that has to be done.
We should add to that the fact that most of the research is, for good and persuasive reasons, snapshot research—the sort of research which looks at something happening at a particular moment in time. The report from the FCA spans two years but effectively one fiscal year has been chosen, out of which have come the figures. But to understand the causes of unmanageable debt and the way to prevent it we need longitudinal studies. Will the body we are discussing have the resources, the capacity and, most importantly, the constitution to undertake work on that scale? That is very different from being just an incidental part of the function: this is mainstream stuff. It will start now and run for 30 years across a life cycle—perhaps longer—to try to understand what causes unmanageable debt across huge populations, not just in samples. Without that information we will not get the detailed granularity we need to make sure that progress is being made in this area.
Thirdly, we are seeing this through the prism of financial capacity. That, of course, is inevitable given where we are starting from. However, as has been stated in many speeches today, and was certainly raised in Committee, the problem with finance is that it is the end product of a lot of other factors that are going on, all of which I argue also need to be researched. Again, I ask: does the wording,
“The single financial guidance body may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of its functions”,
really catch the need to look at health data, the Tesco card, the purchase of cigarettes or whatever we will use to build a picture of what is happening in relation to people’s consumption and their use of the funds they have to enable them to do what they want to do in terms of what the Data Protection Bill, which we are about to go on to, describes as human flourishing?
That term has been coined to try to think through the issues relating to individuals and humans in relation to the work of robots. As citizens we will often be unable to determine whether decisions have been reached by robotic means or by persons. Many people who have campaigned on that Bill argue that we have to remain focused on what will help humans to flourish, not just on how automated machines will work. I am sorry about the digression, but I will tackle that Bill next and it is in my mind as I speak.
The issue remains: do we have confidence that the wording will get us to the point where we can make sure that the body will be able to command both the legal personality to do what it is required and also the funding and resources to carry out a really good job of bringing together so much material, over such a large range of activities, to research what is happening in the debt space particularly? I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for moving Amendment 14—tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, in Committee—and for this evening’s debate. The amendment relates to the new body’s strategic function to conduct research on the levels of unmanageable debts across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the causes of unmanageable debt and ways to prevent it.
It is right that this House continues to take a great interest in understanding the causes of debt and how the Government can best help those who are struggling. I thank noble Lords again for their ongoing, important contributions on this matter since the introduction of the Bill and beyond. Problem debt, as the noble Lord has said, is such a serious issue, with wide-ranging consequences for those affected by it. The Bill is testament that the Government take the issue very seriously and recognise that there is more work to do to ensure that fewer households slip into problem debt. I understand the worthy aims behind this amendment: to highlight the importance of research on indebtedness and to ensure the new body gives it all the attention this important issue requires. The strategic function of the new single financial guidance body will play a fundamental role in this area. It will give the new body the responsibility to develop a national strategy to identify the most pressing issues and the most effective interventions in financial capability, personal debt management and financial education, working closely with others in the financial services industry, the devolved authorities and the public and voluntary sectors.
However, the Government’s assessment remains that to specifically reference one area of research over others in legislation is not needed. There are many topics that the new body will need to investigate and I have no doubt that it will conduct research on the very issue that the noble Lord suggests. Significant research is already being undertaken by the Money Advice Service, which is looking at the levels and causes of over-indebtedness across the UK. A great deal of the focus of MAS’s financial capability work, and the work that is envisaged for the new SFGB, will support the aim of preventing and reducing problem debt.
I refer, as I did in Committee, to my visit to MAS recently. I was tremendously impressed by the focus of those working there on research. They are trying to bottom out what it is and find out how we can tackle debt from an early age onwards and really make a difference—not just to be tactical about it, but to ask: what is it that leads to this really difficult issue of problem debt? A lot of this debt starts from an early age—as referred to in the previous debate—but it also has to do with people’s attitude to it and so on. Noble Lords should have every confidence that all these people will be very excited to take this work forward with the new body. However, specifying one issue of research in legislation—as we said earlier this evening, in terms of having lists for things—can always be problematic and could risk hindering the body’s ability to take a wide-ranging, strategic approach across the whole sector.
The legislation has specifically been drafted to enable the body to do anything that is conducive or incidental to the exercise of all its functions, and this includes conducting research. So, yes, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, we are confident that doing research is a part of the incidental and conducive function, and I am very happy to give that assurance. This will ensure that the body is future-proof and able to have regard to any unforeseen, emerging issues—ones which we have not even begun to contemplate, I am sad to say, and which may confront us in years to come.
The whole purpose of this new body is to improve the financial capability of the public through its delivery and its strategic functions. To do this effectively, it will need to conduct wide-ranging research to fully understand the issues it is addressing, test what works best and learn new approaches. As I hope I have set out clearly today, the Government believe that the new body should have the ability to choose the specific topics it researches in relation to its function and that these should not be specified in legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, also asked whether the body will have the capacity to do this research on a large scale. Yes, it will have that capacity. I have talked to everybody working across the three existing bodies and they see this very much as a part of their role going forward. Therefore, I hope that, after considering these points, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her ringing endorsement of the role of research in the work of the SFGB. I admire her confidence that it will be able to be done, and I am sure that it will be. We hope that it will be one of the things that will be read in Hansard and used as a way of building up the forward work programme. I am still slightly worried about the breadth of the research and the ability to carry it out on a very long timescale. Longitudinal studies take time and a lot of resources, and they have very few results for a long time, so a real engagement at that level will be required. However, given that that is where we are and it is what we are going to do, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Amendments 15 to 20 not moved.
21: Clause 2, leave out clause 2 and insert the following new clause—
“Objectives and functions
(1) The objectives of the single financial guidance body are— (a) to improve the ability of members of the public to make informed financial decisions,(b) to support the provision of information, guidance and advice in areas where it is lacking,(c) to secure that information, guidance and advice are provided to members of the public in the clearest and most cost-effective way (including having regard to information provided by other organisations),(d) to ensure that information, guidance and advice are available to those most in need of them (and to allocate its resources accordingly), and(e) to work closely with the devolved authorities as regards the provision of information, guidance and advice to members of the public in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.(2) The single financial guidance body must have regard to its objectives when it exercises its functions.(3) The single financial guidance body has the following functions—(a) the pensions guidance function;(b) the debt advice function;(c) the money guidance function;(d) the strategic function.(4) The pensions guidance function is to provide, to members of the public, free and impartial information and guidance on matters relating to occupational and personal pensions.(5) The debt advice function is to provide, to members of the public in England, free and impartial information and advice on debt.(6) The money guidance function is to provide, to members of the public, free and impartial information and guidance designed to enhance people’s understanding and knowledge of financial matters and their ability to manage their own financial affairs.(7) Where the single financial guidance body provides information, guidance or advice to a person in pursuance of one of the functions mentioned in subsection (3)(a) to (c), it must consider whether the person would benefit from receiving information, guidance or advice in pursuance of any other of those functions and the single financial guidance body must ensure that, where information, guidance or advice is provided on its behalf by an SFGB delivery partner, the SFGB delivery partner is under a duty to do the same.(8) The strategic function is to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve—(a) the financial capability of members of the public,(b) the ability of members of the public to manage their debts, and(c) the provision of financial education.(9) In developing the national strategy, the single financial guidance body must work with others, such as those in the financial services industry, the devolved authorities and the public and voluntary sectors.(10) The single financial guidance body also has the function of providing advice and assistance to the Secretary of State on matters relating to the functions listed in subsection (3).(11) The single financial guidance body may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of its functions.(12) In this section “the devolved authorities” means—(a) the Scottish Ministers,(b) the Welsh Ministers, and(c) the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland.”
It seems rather perverse, right at the very end, to talk about a clause that we have been debating for nearly a whole day and then to propose that it should be struck out and replaced with something else. Also, I wonder whether the clerks understand what we are trying to do here. We have already amended Clause 2 as it currently stands and they have not raised a single eyebrow. Actually, two eyebrows are being raised at the moment but they were not raised earlier when we seemed to stray into the territory of constitutional confusion, although I do not wish to raise that again today.
Let us be quite clear about this. The amendment was meant to be an attempt to aid wider public understanding of what the body is about. When we went through Committee, and certainly when we talked about some of the issues relating to the Bill in meetings, it was felt that we had the wording in the Bill as published before this stage—starting as it did with functions and moving on to objectives—the wrong way round. It was felt that there would be better clarity and a better understanding of what we were about if we could rejig it in a way that focused on the long-term vision of this body, how its constitution and powers supported that long-term vision, and what functions it needed to achieve that objective in the medium term. Amendment 21, in my name, is an attempt to do that. It borrows heavily on discussions with the Bill team, for which I am very grateful, and indeed some of the wording may be rather familiar to the team. It is not far from what appears in the Bill as currently printed, except that it is in a different order. I argue that the way it now reads—and I hope that there will be support for this around the Chamber—provides a much more logical approach to what we are going to do.
In a nutshell, the problem is that if you start with the functions of the body as it may be in the future, you tend to think of those in terms of where we are at the moment with the existing constituent bodies—the MAS, Pension Wise and TPAS. If you detach that from your initial thinking and think only about what will happen to the consumer and the journey the consumer takes in trying to get the information, advice or guidance that they seek, in the appropriate way, it clears up a lot of the confusion that we ran into and the terminological difficulties that we had. They were helpful in that they brought out the problems that we faced, but unhelpful in that they brought us back to confusion about what this body was about.
In Amendment 21, the objectives, coming before functions, are listed in paragraph 1. In paragraph 2 they are now objectives, whereas before they were functions, and then the functions follow. The related powers come after that. It has a clarity of overall shape that commends it, but I doubt that the wording is now sufficient to cope not only with where we might want to see changes coming forward but also in light of what has happened.
I have anticipated an amendment already in the Bill, as of this afternoon, by including within the phrasing of my current amendment the “free and impartial” amendment, which we have accepted. I took a bit of a chance on that but I am delighted that we have agreed that that should go forward, as it should do. There may be others that a little bit of time and work by parliamentary draftsmen could polish up by the time we get to Third Reading. I hope that, when the Minister responds, she might feel it worth taking away this amendment and bringing back something that would substitute for the existing Clause 2 in a way that fulfils some of the objectives that I have set out here today. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for this amendment to Clause 2. I also want to thank all noble Lords who have spoken today in connection with the functions and objectives of the single financial guidance body. We have had a wide-ranging debate, covering matters including financial inclusion, financial exclusion, financial education, scams and fraud, and unmanageable debt. We were also going to debate, and accept as important, the resourcing of front-line services.
I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McKenzie, for the discussions that we have outside the Chamber in relation to this clause and how it might be reframed. As noble Lords have rightly indicated, Clause 2 is the foundation that sets the whole tone and ethos for how the single financial guidance body will operate. It provides, as we have discussed today, the framework and lens through which the body will exercise its functions and make progress, working with others towards achieving its objectives.
I think that we are all agreed that establishing the single financial guidance body with a framework of broad core functions and objectives provides a sensible and pragmatic way forward. The amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has tabled does four key things. It restructures the subsections in Clause 2 to bring to the fore the body’s objectives. It places an obligation on the body to consider all a person’s information, financial guidance and debt advice needs, and whether they would benefit from receiving other services that the body provides. It seeks to clarify that the body will hold the pen and have some responsibility for ensuring that all parties involved in developing a national strategy make progress on taking it forward. It also seeks to extend the strategy’s financial education element beyond children and young people. I see the value in the intentions behind this amendment.
There is a certain merit in setting out up front what the objectives behind the activities of the body should be. I also see merit in making it more apparent that the single financial guidance body will take the lead in developing a national strategy to improve people’s financial capability and ability to manage debt. These changes could clarify, not only to the body but also to all those it will work closely with, that these are the Government’s and Parliament’s expectations.
I recall that the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McKenzie, raised a similar point in Committee about ensuring that, if a member of the public comes to the new body seeking information, guidance or debt advice from two or more different functions of the body, they will be able to access those different functions if needed, as opposed to only one function. I think we all agree that this is important. While this was one of the Government’s stated aims for the single body, I still believe that it is already encapsulated in the Bill. However, I can see that it may be useful to strengthen that point and make it more obvious in the legislation.
We discussed earlier amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on matters relating to financial education which seek to extend the element of the strategic function beyond the provision of financial education to children and young people. I do not think it is necessary for me to reiterate the points which I and my noble friend Lord Young made when discussing Amendments 9, 10 and 13, but I am supportive of much of the intent behind this amendment. I feel that we agree on the broad thrust of much of what it aims to achieve. On this basis, I trust, and very much hope, that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, will withdraw the amendment to provide some further time for us to consider and refine it before bringing it back at Third Reading.
My Lords, how could one possibly resist that invitation? I accept it in every way possible. We were joking beforehand that we were so in debt to Ministers that at one point we would have to run round the table and embrace the noble Baroness to thank her for all that she has done on our behalf. I will hold back on that for now—we need to see what happens at Third Reading before we get to the kissing stage. But I thank the Minister very much for what she said. It was also wrong of me not to mention the additional important point about proposed new subsection (7) and I am glad that she was able to pick it up and talk about it. I am sure that we can work together on this. There is time to get it right before Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
House adjourned at 8.46 pm.