Relevant Documents: 4th, 7th, 8th and 16th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Motion on Amendment 1
1: Clause 27, page 17, line 38, leave out from beginning to end of line 40 and insert “The notice must specify—”
My Lords, before turning to the Commons amendments, I will take a moment to remind the House of what the Bill does, as a lot has happened since it was last here.
If enacted, the Bill will affect the lives of millions of people throughout the country. It will make pensions better by creating a new style of pension scheme that has the potential to increase future returns for millions of working people, and by delivering pensions dashboards that will help individuals to make informed decisions about their financial futures. It will make them safer by helping to prevent scams and by clamping down on those who recklessly try to plunder the pension pots of hard-working employees. It will make them greener by requiring pension schemes to take the Government’s net-zero climate targets into account in managing their own climate risk. I know that your Lordships agree that this is a worthwhile and important piece of legislation, and it has received cross-party support in both Houses. I hope that we are now at the final stage of its passage, and that we can agree and allow it to move on for Royal Assent.
I turn to Amendment 1. We welcome the strong interest shown in both Houses on ensuring that CDC schemes treat their members fairly and, in particular, operate in a way that is intergenerationally fair. As we explained in both Houses, requiring trustees to assess fairness is likely to generate confusion, as the concept means different things to different people, and there would be uncertainty about what was required. That is why we have intentionally avoided referencing fairness in such a way within any of the CDC provisions. Instead, following consultation, we intend to use these regulations to set out clear principles and processes that schemes must follow to ensure that different types of members are treated the same where appropriate—for example, when accruing and calculating benefits and making adjustments to benefits. These requirements will form part of the authorisation process for CDC schemes overseen by the Pensions Regulator.
For example, we intend that regulations under Clause 18 will require CDC scheme rules to ensure that there is no difference in treatment when calculating and adjusting benefits between different cohorts or age groups of scheme members, or between members who are active, deferred or receiving a pension. This is a clear and effective approach to delivering fairness in practice that is not only easy to understand, but also easy for members and trustees to apply, because it avoids a subjective interpretation of what is fair. We are all pleased that Royal Mail agrees with our approach, and it is for these reasons that we do not consider the amendment to the Bill necessary.
I will move on to Commons Amendments 2 and 3. Pension dashboards will help to revolutionise the pensions industry and bring it into the 21st century. This innovative programme will help to reconnect consumers with their otherwise lost pension pots and engage millions of UK citizens with their pension savings in a safe, secure and convenient way. These amendments on delaying the introduction of dashboards from other providers and preventing transactions through dashboards were overturned in the other place. This was in recognition of the approach taken to ensure that consumers were protected as part of the development of dashboard services. In respect of multiple dashboards, it has always been the Government’s belief that individuals should be able to access information about their pension savings from a service of their choosing. I am delighted that, following the changes that we made in this House, consumers will be able to access a dashboard service that is publicly owned, provided by the Money and Pensions Service. I restate the commitment that was made by my noble friend Lord Howe in this House on 30 June last year that
“the Government wholeheartedly agree that such a dashboard should be available to all users from day one, alongside dashboards offered by other organisations.”—[Official Report, 30/6/20; col. 668.]
We will not allow any qualifying dashboard to be launched before that of the Money and Pensions Service. However, we remain firmly of the belief that allowing other properly regulated dashboard providers to operate is the best way to drive engagement, reaching out to consumers where they may already interact with digital services, and unlocking innovative potential. I have said before that dashboards will launch with a simple find-and-view capability; this remains the case. However, enabling transactions through dashboards can provide an innovative way of safely giving people more effective control of their pension savings. Functionality on dashboards will be increased only as a result of user testing, after careful review and with the right level of consumer protections in place. It is important that we maintain the ability to meet the needs of the user by not prohibiting functionality that can put individuals in control. The ability to have this type of functionality in the future could bring real and significant benefits for consumers—for example, when consolidating small pots of pensions savings.
Dashboards are a hugely exciting innovation that will benefit and empower millions of citizens. We should support the development of dashboards so that they reach their potential and change the way that people interact with their pensions savings by placing them in control of all their pensions.
Finally, Commons Amendment 5 removed the privilege amendment made in the Lords, as is the norm in these cases. I beg to move.
My Lords, as there are no counterproposals to these Commons amendments, I shall try to brief, but there are a couple of points I would like to make in relation to Commons Amendments 1, 2 and 3.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have had lengthy discussions around the risk of unfairness, intergenerational or otherwise, that is inherent to collective money purchase schemes, or CDCs as they seem still to be called. I regret that the Government chose not to accept the amendment which required trustees to make an assessment of the extent to which a scheme is operating in a manner fair to all members; it has been removed by Commons Amendment 1. That seemed a fairly uncontroversial concept. However, the Minister has been very clear that the Government acknowledge the risk of unfairness, that they intend to learn from experiences in other countries, such as the Netherlands, and that they intend to deal with this issue in the regulations that they will publish in relation to Clause 18.
Commons Amendments 2 and 3 remove the amendments your Lordships agreed to in relation to pensions dashboards which required that there should be a period during which pensions dashboards are initially restricted to the MaPS dashboard and that they should not become transactional platforms without primary legislation. On the second point, I remain quite uncomfortable with the idea of a pensions dashboard becoming a transactional platform without very serious thought and experience. However, these matters will also be dealt with by regulations and I am confident that the Minister has heard the concerns that have been raised, even if she does not agree with the proposed method of dealing with them.
The Minister has been very generous with her time and commendably willing to meet to listen to and discuss concerns throughout the passage of the Bill. As a result of changes made to the Bill as it passed through your Lordships’ House, most of the regulations that will follow will be subject to the affirmative procedure. However, even under the affirmative procedure, it will not be possible to amend regulations. I therefore urge the Minister to continue her constructive and collaborative approach in relation to the regulations that will now follow by consulting across the House before draft regulations become set in stone. That way she will be able to take advantage of the very deep pensions knowledge and experience in this House and the regulations will be all the better for it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her clear presentation and her response to the issues raised during the passage of the Bill, as expressed in these amendments, which were based on concerns about protecting members of the public from criminal scams and malpractice and about minimising potential risks and threats to the value of pension schemes.
The amendments sent to the other place for consideration related, first, to the wish to ensure fairness, particularly to younger and newer members of the new CMP schemes; and, secondly, to the protection of pension scheme members from scams and exploitation in the operation of the dashboard by preventing financial transactions on it and by allowing the operation of the public dashboard for one year before allowing private sector models.
I understand from the Minister’s opening remarks that the concerns of the movers of those amendments have been at least partially addressed by Ministers. However, I support the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, about consultation across the House before the regulations are drafted for consideration. Once the Bill is passed into law and these measures come into operation, we expect that they will be closely monitored and that if further concerns arise they may be reconsidered during the passage of regulations at a later stage. In view of this, we are not proposing to pursue these amendments further.
The fourth amendment concerns the need for different treatment of open and closed schemes and is the subject of further amendments today. My noble friend Lady Bowles will address the important issues raised when this amendment is considered in the next group.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for explaining why the Government asked the Commons to reject the amendments passed in this House. We have come a long way since the Bill had its First Reading in this House on 7 January—more than a year ago, although it seems more like a lifetime. The Bill now makes some important changes, creates CDC schemes, legislates for the pensions dashboard and strengthens the regulatory environment on pensions.
During the Bill’s passage through this House, the Government have made some welcome concessions. For example, we ran an amendment to require a public dashboard from the outset. The Government brought forward amendments requiring that, and I am grateful for the confirmation that the Minister has given today. We ran amendments saying that the FCA should regulate the provision of dashboard services, and the Minister has confirmed that that will happen. We ran an amendment to say that using the dashboard to see your own data must be free, and the Minister has confirmed that it will remain free.
The Bill initially made no reference to climate change, but my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and Members from across the House worked together to persuade the Government to amend the Bill to require trustees and managers to take the Paris Agreement and domestic climate change targets into account in their overall governance and their disclosure of climate change risks and opportunities. This is the first time that the words “climate change” have featured in domestic pensions legislation.
This is a better Bill than it was when it started, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have worked so hard on it, especially my noble friend Lady Drake and Dan Harris in our Opposition Whips team. I am also grateful to the Minister for engaging with our concerns and to the Bill team and all the officials who have engaged with us.
That said, the Government have rejected the amendments which this House voted for. On CDC schemes, I hope they will review the intergenerational impact of any schemes as they are developed and will keep an eye on that. I am particularly disappointed that our amendments on the pensions dashboard system were rejected. They would have put in place two essential safeguards: that the MaPS public dashboard should be in operation for a year and that the Secretary of State should lay a report before Parliament on its operation and effectiveness before commercial dashboards enter the market, and that the delegated powers in the Bill could not be used to authorise commercial dashboards to engage in transactions.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, I remain deeply concerned about the risks to consumers. Those amendments were especially important given the sheer breadth of the delegated powers the Bill grants and how little we know at the moment about how the dashboards will work. We still do not know how many dashboards there will be, who will run them, what information they will have, how it will be displayed or how consumers will respond. We do not know where liability will lie for each link in the chain or how consumers will be compensated if they lose out. We do not know what the charging model will be or how data security, identity verification or third-party access will be managed.
Given all those things that we do not know, I have sought to persuade the Government to come to Parliament to allow us to debate the proposals they make before the regulations are published. I regret that I have not succeeded in that. Given that this remains a very high-risk programme and that parliamentary scrutiny would surely be an advantage not an impediment, I hope that in her reply the Minister can give us some assurance of our continued involvement in debate on this process. I look forward to hearing her reply.
First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Janke and Lady Sherlock, for their contributions. I think it is right to say that we have listened, we have engaged and we have valued and appreciated all noble Lords’ contributions, and I assure noble Lords that that will continue.
I reassure the House that the Government are fully committed to continue transparency and engagement through the development, delivery and operation of pensions dashboards. We greatly value the insight and input from colleagues from across the House in shaping, testing and ensuring the proposals and want that to continue throughout the more detailed stages of development. The pension dashboards programme is committed to publishing six-monthly progress updates, the most recent of which, in October 2020, outlined the work undertaken to define the data standards and the work towards finalising the requirements for the digital architecture and the identity service. It also set out an indicative plan for delivery.
Future updates, in advance of the launch of dashboards, will provide greater detail, engagement opportunity and assurance on key areas of specific interest. These will include the digital architecture and identity service; user consents and permissions, including delegated or third-party access; the consumer protection regime, including the liability model; and further work on how data will be presented to consumers, based on a growing body of user research and a greater understanding of user needs.
I facilitated a meeting between noble Lords and the pensions dashboards programme team just before Christmas. As promised at that meeting, I will ensure that these regular meetings continue. They will provide your Lordships with the opportunity to have meaningful discussions directly with the programme team at the publication of each progress update report and a chance to scrutinise this work at an early stage of development. I will ensure that copies of these reports are placed in the House Library on their publication.
I recognise the concerns that many have expressed about the broad nature of the delegated powers within this area of the Bill. There is a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to consult before making regulations for pensions dashboards. Consultation will cover proposals across the range of areas which are critical to the safe, secure and effective delivery of dashboards, and give all those interested the opportunity to influence the detail before the regulations are laid in draft in this House under the affirmative procedure.
I know that some of your Lordships have asked whether we can go even further, requiring the Government to lay a report before Parliament for debate in advance of draft regulations being laid. I do not believe this to be the right way forward, as the consultation on the Government’s proposals for regulations will already have taken place.
I have listened further to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and, although we have not always been in agreement, we are together on Peers having ongoing future involvement, and we are prepared to engage, engage and engage. Therefore, in addition to updating the House in the usual manner, I am prepared to commit to the Government tabling Written Ministerial Statements during the consultation phases, prior to the debate on the proposed dashboard regulations.
I reassure the noble Baroness that I will continue to work with her collaboratively in the way we have done throughout the Bill’s progress. On the matter of facilitating further debate on the issue, I am sure that the Chief Whip has heard our debate today, and, when the Written Ministerial Statements are laid, I will draw them to his attention for him to consider further discussion in the usual channels.
Some concerns have been expressed about governance of the dashboard service going forward. The Money and Pensions Service has responsibility for delivery of the dashboard architecture and ongoing oversight and control, and it is clear that our focus for the foreseeable future must be on the development and implementation of the service. Meeting the demands of the scale and complexity of this challenge comes first. Reaching a live and steady state of operation will take a number of years, as set out in the pensions dashboards programme activity plan. As such, I confirm that the Government have no plan to move ownership of dashboards architecture away from the Money and Pensions Service.
My department has clear governance arrangements in place to ensure the delivery of dashboards. As well as the regular published updates that I mentioned earlier, there is an existing legislative requirement, in the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018, for MaPS to report to the Secretary of State annually on the exercise of its functions, which includes its responsibilities for pensions dashboards. This report is laid before Parliament.
Chris Curry, the senior responsible officer for the pensions dashboard programme, and Sir Hector Sants, chair of the Money and Pensions Service, regularly report progress to Ministers. The department also undertakes formal quarterly accountability reviews with the Money and Pensions Service. We recognise the importance of effective evaluation, including monitoring of consumer behaviours and outcomes. My department is responsible for overall evaluation of the policy and is working with the pensions dashboards programme and regulators to develop a comprehensive evaluation plan.
Research will also be undertaken with providers and users alike throughout the project life cycle. This will include user testing to understand likely reactions and behaviours, and research to understand the impact that dashboards will have on the market. My department is developing a joint set of critical success factors to complement delivery and measure the success of policy objectives. These are relevant to all stages of the programme and will give insights on, among other things, usage of the service, delivery and compliance. Review of the critical success factors will also play a part in evaluation and service developments.
I finish by repeating the commitment that I made in my opening remarks. We will not allow any dashboard to which schemes are required to supply data to be launched before that of the Money and Pensions Service. On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, about a review of intergenerational impact and fairness, we will of course review how CD schemes operate and will monitor how different groups are treated.
I hope that my comments reassure noble Lords that the Government are acting diligently and responsibly in the delivery of dashboards.
Motion on Amendment 1 agreed.
Motion on Amendments 2 and 3
2: Clause 118, page 104, leave out lines 20 to 22
3: Clause 122, page 116, leave out lines 38 to 45
Motion on Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 4
4: Clause 123, page 118, line 1, leave out subsection (2)
My Lords, this amendment was overturned in the House of Commons because, as the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion explained in Committee in the Commons, no Government can commit to ensuring that all defined benefit pension schemes that are expected to remain open are treated differently from other schemes. Although, of course, the extent to which a scheme is open, and how that affects whether and how it will mature, must be considered, open schemes do not all share the same characteristics, and it would be wrong to treat them all in a similar way. Each scheme must be treated taking account of its own particular circumstances.
The original amendment touched on a number of important factors to be taken into account in the scheme funding arrangements. They are some, but by no means all, of the factors that we think trustees or managers should have to consider when setting a scheme’s funding and investment strategy. These are complex and inter- dependent metrics and most appropriate to be considered in secondary legislation rather than being put on the face of the Bill. The Bill provides for this through delegated powers that will enable secondary legislation to set out in some detail what the new funding and investment strategy will need to include.
Addressing those matters in regulations will give interested parties a chance to contribute to the consultation on draft regulations. It will also allow flexibility to ensure that the arrangements can be adapted as economic conditions change, so that the scheme funding system can continue to operate effectively over time. But we absolutely do not want to see good schemes close unnecessarily. We have made a clear commitment to ensuring that regulations work in a way that does not prevent appropriate open schemes investing in riskier investments where there are potentially higher returns, provided the risks taken can be supported and that members’ benefits and the Pension Protection Fund are effectively protected. With that explanation, I beg to move.
Motion 4A (as an amendment to the Motion on Amendment 4)
4B: Page 117, line 44, at end insert—
“( ) In exercising any powers to make regulations or otherwise to prescribe any matter or principle under Part 3 of the Pensions Act 2004 (scheme funding) as amended by Schedule 10, the objectives of the Secretary of State must include supporting the ability of the scheme trustees to decide the specific funding, investment risk management and diversification strategy that is appropriate for the long-term time horizon, liquidity and employer covenant of the scheme.””
My Lords, we have come a long way since the probing discussions in Committee, when the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, first raised concern about whether there were steps afoot to cause de-risking of open DB schemes and the effect that that might have of shifting investment to gilts. I was among several noble Lords who agreed with that concern, and I followed up on Report with an amendment, kindly signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Vaux of Harrowden, which was passed.
In the light of experience, it could perhaps have been better framed. The message is that there is a difference between open defined schemes that are not on the path to maturity—when investments have to be progressively used up to pay pensions—and closed schemes that are on that inexorable path to maturity. This difference opens wider investment possibilities in relation to liquidity and risk. Absent such recognition—which is the status quo—schemes would become unnecessarily expensive for both employers and employees. They would become unaffordable. There would be knock-on effects for the wider economy because a great source of investment would be removed.
My amendment was followed up with cross-party vigour in the Commons. Although the Government have not accepted any amendments, there have been many helpful meetings and written exchanges with our Minister, the Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman, and the Pensions Regulator. Progress has been made and I think we have all learned something. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for enabling those meetings, for giving us the time to think about our response and for proposing statements that addressed our concerns.
Most open schemes will follow what is now called the bespoke approach; that is, one tailored to individual circumstances. Recently, I had a helpful email exchange with the regulator about fast track, which was described in the consultation and which can be used by open schemes, which acknowledged the more general recognition that open schemes do not have to progressively derisk: “If you are an open scheme with a strong flow of new entrants, then you might always be 20 years from maturity. You might, therefore, always be at the same point in the covenant to maturity table and you may never be constrained by a lowering of the discount rate consistent with that.” Trying to correct arguments that have gone backwards and forwards is always slightly distracting. Is the word “different” useful, or will it be played on by those wishing to avoid appropriate contributions? What is meant by maturity? These terms have been challenged, yet they are inevitably used by all sides.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and I put our heads together to suggest statements and the reserving Amendment 4B, which we shared with other noble Lords for their comments. The amendment states simply that regulations should support the ability of scheme trustees to decide
“the specific funding, investment risk management and diversification strategy that is appropriate for the long-term time horizon, liquidity and employer covenant of the scheme.”
The long-term time horizon is another way of saying maturity. Liquidity relates not only to investments but to the cash flow of schemes. The strength of the employer covenant is a further factor in how trustees assess risk to the scheme and how to manage deficits. It covers the assets that have been pledged to support the scheme and, more generally, what assets the employer has.
We submitted five points to the Minister. First, we proposed that the DB funding regime should remain scheme-specific; any bespoke approach should build on this foundation and be flexibly applied to take account of individual scheme circumstances.
Secondly, member benefits can sometimes be safeguarded, not by derisking investments, but by an appropriate risk management strategy determined after careful analysis by the trustees, taking account of time horizon, liquidity, employer covenant and appropriate diversification.
Thirdly, detailed provisions for ongoing DB funding, including any necessary assessment criteria and metrics, should be set out in regulations. These would acknowledge the position of open and less mature schemes and be encompassed within the Pensions Regulator’s defined benefit funding code of practice.
Fourthly, prior to publication of draft regulations, the Government should commit to an engagement programme with a range of schemes, particularly those remaining open and immature, and launch a consultation document informed by this engagement.
Fifthly, the Government should also publish a comprehensive regulatory impact assessment of the draft regulations, including an analysis of the impact of any suggested derisking approach on members and sponsors of schemes that are open, immature or have no intention of buyout. To clarify, I hope there would also be impact assessments for the regulator’s code of practice. Perhaps this is already a requirement. While I accept that it may not be possible to know whether buyout is intended, there should not be a general assumption that all employers want to get to buyout of their DB schemes, even if the insurance companies wish to funnel them in this direction.
I reserve my right to call a vote on my amendment, but I am optimistic that it will not come to that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for her contribution. I hope that the debates in both Houses have caused the Government to reflect further on whether their DB funding requirements are fit for purpose. I acknowledge the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and other Members in this regard.
I wish that the Government had supported the Labour amendment to the Bill in the other place. The essence of it is captured in my Amendment 4D here. It is regrettable that so many DB pension schemes outside the public sector are closed to new members and to future accrual of benefits for existing members. It is also important to recognise that there are DB schemes which remain meaningfully open to new members, which are sustainable, and which have strong employer covenants.
I support the Pensions Regulator in wanting to ensure that DB schemes are well run and properly funded, thereby increasing the likelihood that members will receive their accrued benefits in full when they become due. We have seen enough examples of poor corporate behaviour and the decline or collapse of companies providing the covenant to DB schemes to know the consequences of having a weak funding regime.
Today’s debate does not challenge this principle. It is concerned with how the principle is applied and specifically whether the approach to scheme funding by the Government and the regulator sufficiently recognises the difference between the funding regime for a sustainable, meaningfully open DB scheme and that for an increasingly mature and closed DB scheme. There is real concern that, unless the difference is recognised, the Pensions Regulator and any regulations from the Secretary of State could perversely pose a threat to the continuation of open, relatively immature, sustainable schemes. This would thereby deny the opportunity for millions of workers to benefit from a DB pension. Many sections of the Railway Pensions Scheme are an example of such an open DB scheme.
A closed DB scheme will, of course, see contributions decline and the remaining scheme members progressively age. As more and more of the assets will be needed to pay the pensions, they will need to be lower risk and provide liquidity to ensure that members receive their benefits when they become due. A sustainable, meaningfully open scheme has an ongoing flow of new contributions, including from future members. These can be invested for the long term, providing higher returns. Their investment profile does not need to be as risk-averse as that required for a declining DB scheme. If sustainable, open DB schemes are unnecessarily pushed into the same investment and derisking strategies required for declining closed schemes, there is the risk that the regulator will push up the ongoing contributions of members and employers to such a level that, perversely, they encourage open, sustainable DB schemes to close. This cannot be right. It does not benefit employees, employers or the economy.
My amendment aims to ensure that regulations on DB scheme funding recognise the characteristics of sustainable open schemes, rather than setting a one size fits all policy for both closed and open DB schemes. It specifies that
“the objectives of the Secretary of State must include supporting the ability of the trustees of a relevant scheme to decide the funding and investment strategy for the scheme taking into account the current and future maturity and liquidity of the relevant scheme consistent with the trustees’ duty to invest assets in the best interests of members and beneficiaries.”
I know that the Pensions Regulator has issued an interim response to its first DB funding code consultation. It is apparent from some of the comments, including those of the PLSA, that there are misunderstandings or lack of clarity about the position of open schemes. Assurances are being sought from some in the pensions industry and elsewhere that the DB funding regime will remain scheme-specific. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, referred to this. Any bespoke approach under the new funding proposals should build on that foundation. The DB funding regime should continue to apply flexibly to take account of individual scheme circumstances.
I will listen carefully to the Minister’s answers to my questions and to those detailed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. Given the concerns expressed in both Houses, it will be important to hear some answers to these questions and I do hope to hear the Minister tell us whether the Government plan to consult with open and immature schemes before publishing the draft regulations, including reflecting on the impact on members and sponsors of schemes that are meaningfully open. I hope the Minister can respond today in a way that addresses the concerns raised and indicates a way forward. I too have valued the conversations of which I have been a part. I have no wish to press my amendment to a Division, although I will listen carefully to what she has to say before making a final decision. I look forward to her reply.
My Lords, we had lengthy discussions on Report around the concern that a one-size-fits-all derisking policy could render uneconomic otherwise healthy defined benefit schemes which remain open, and which are not close to maturity. The noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Sherlock, have already described the issue in better detail than I ever could, so I will not repeat the case, but it would be a great shame if a laudable intent to derisk had the unintended consequence of leading to the premature end of healthy, well-run defined benefit schemes, which are of particular importance to lower-paid employees. I know that this is not the intention of the Government, as the Minister has just restated; I am confident that the Minister will be able to set our minds at rest by confirming the points asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and that Divisions on Motions 4A and 4C will not be necessary.
As this is likely to be the last time I speak on the Bill, I hope the House will not mind if I take the opportunity to put on record my thanks to the Minister for her open and collaborative approach throughout its passage. She and her team have been extremely generous with their time and I am very grateful to them all. I am also grateful to all noble Lords for their patience as I have fumbled through my first involvement in amending a Bill; I have learned a lot from them. The Bill has been an excellent demonstration of the depth of expertise that resides in this House and of how well the House can work across parties to improve legislation. As the Minister said after Third Reading
“we collaborated, we talked, we listened and we made the Bill better.”—[Official Report, 15/7/20; col. 1671.]
I agree with her and, as I said earlier, I very much look forward to that same collaborative spirit continuing into the discussions on the regulations that will put the flesh on to the skeleton of this Bill.
Noble Lords in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on introducing this group of amendments and particularly thank her, the Bill team officials and the Pensions Regulator for engaging with us in such a collegiate manner. The co-operativeness and openness that have been shown to all noble Lords across the House have been hugely welcomed and already commented upon; I reiterate that this approach has improved the Bill and that this will continue into the future when it comes to the regulations. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, as well as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Drake, on the way in which we have all been able to co-operate on this important issue.
I briefly express concerns about the MaPS dashboard being sidelined and the data-security issues that may be involved in the dashboard, as well as, importantly, the fairness issues that will be dealt with in regulations of CDC schemes. Having dealt with that, I turn to Motions 4A and 4C. It is important that my noble friend can provide reassurance that scheme-specific approaches that have endured so far will be preserved. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, has outlined—echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock—there are issues on which I am confident my noble friend will be able to reassure us.
I certainly hope that this is the case: that any new defined benefit funding code, and the regulations that will encompass it in respect of any bespoke route to funding, will continue to be scheme-specific and flexible to accommodate appropriate integrated risk management that trustees—having carefully assessed the appropriate long-term time horizon, employer covenant and liquidity forecasts for their scheme—can use to build a diversified portfolio that will benefit from long-term expected returns and risk premia on assets such as infrastructure, social housing and early-stage growth businesses. This would enable pension assets to be used to boost growth directly and conserve corporate assets, as well as ensuring that pension schemes are sustainable, both in the sense of them being able to continue to provide benefits and in terms of being sustainable relative to the climate challenge that we all face.
Especially with the current monetary policy of quantitative easing having driven long-term interest rates down to exceptional, unprecedented low levels, forcing schemes with long-term time horizons—or even leading trustees and their advisers to believe that it is appropriate—to sell higher expected return assets and buy much lower return investments, in competition with the Bank of England and other financial firms, seems to be a recipe for failure rather than success. Member benefits are not necessarily best protected by so-called derisking. Clause 123 was an attempt, sadly removed in the Commons, to give some reassurance on these points, particularly to open schemes but, indeed, also to other schemes, which have no intention to buy out and are not close to doing so.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and my honourable friend the Pensions Minister for recognising, and now, I hope, publicly endorsing, the idea that these pension assets could be valuable to the economy. Lower expected return investments mean that employers must put more money into pensions now, in the short term. Not only is this a waste of corporate resources and an unnecessary extra cost on sponsoring employers—whose assets are particularly valuable right now as we try to recover from the damage of the pandemic—but it is a massive drain on the Exchequer. This point is not often mentioned but the vast majority of the £50 billion a year that goes on pensions tax relief has been spent on deficit-reduction contributions in defined benefit schemes. This money would surely be better used to allow pension fund assets directly to boost growth. Pension funds are the ideal long-term investors for infrastructure, for projects to mitigate and offset climate change, and for social housing; all these should be able to deliver better returns than gilt. Equity participation too adds upside to everyone’s benefit.
I believe and fervently hope that my noble friend the Minister will confirm the Government to be in agreement with the issues raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, about avoiding what might be called reckless conservatism or counterproductive caution, so that our £2 trillion worth of defined benefit scheme assets can feed into the rebuilding of our economy and support sustainability both of the schemes and of the environment. I once again thank my noble friend and her team for all their hard work on the Bill, and thank colleagues across the House for all the work they have done.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests.
I need to ask the indulgence of the House because I accept that it is unusual for a Member who has not contributed at any previous stage of a Bill to intervene at this stage. However, I was not a Member of the House then, and so I was unable to take part. It will be recalled that the Bill was introduced almost exactly a year ago, and it is almost exactly a year ago that I was first aware that I would be joining your Lordships. I watched the entire progress of the Pensions Bill—with only slight exaggeration—like a child locked out of a sweet shop. I so much wanted to take part in the debate and discussions. I am not suggesting for one moment that the incredible work by my noble friends on the Bill has not been effective; I just would have liked to have been with them.
It is also worth mentioning, since the House places some stress on being a repository of expertise, that on Clause 123 I can claim considerable expertise because I am a fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. In the course of my actuarial work I was a scheme actuary and I produced valuations, and that is what this clause is about. Since this is the first time that I have had a chance to speak when I have not been subject to a three-minute time limit, I am tempted to speak for a long time about scheme valuations, but I will spare your Lordships that.
Before I get to the substance, I thank the Minister. As I say, I have watched the debates, and I pay tribute to the way in which the Bill has been handled. I highlight that the introduction of what I still think of as collective DC is an excellent move forward and of considerable importance, as is—although of course there is more to be done—the work that has been done on the dashboard.
Turning to the amendments, I strongly support what is proposed here. The issue is the valuation of open defined benefit pension schemes. Real concern has been expressed by employers and trade unions representing their members about such schemes that the changes foreshadowed in the regulatory regime by the legislation will not work for such schemes, and the result will be higher costs and lower benefits. I am glad to see that a response has been made on the behalf of the Pensions Regulator, assuring us that it is not saying, “Don’t worry, just trust us with it all”, and making various commitments about how open defined benefit schemes will be handled. Well, why not put such assurances into the legislation? I certainly hope they will be included in the regulations.
At this point, it is worth acquainting the House with some evidence that the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries has presented on this clause. It said:
“Any employer that has left their DB scheme open to new entrants to date is highly likely to have done so as a conscious choice, and usually with strong support from members and associated trade unions. The risks inherent in DB are typically well understood not only by the employers but also by the scheme’s members, and their trade union representatives. These schemes should therefore not necessarily be treated the same, or need the same level of security, as closed schemes. In our view it is critically important that viable and successful open schemes are not caused to close through adverse legislative change or guidance from The Pensions Regulator.”
I fully endorse what the institute says there and what has been said by previous speakers, with which I concur. What is notable about what the institute said in that statement is that it emphasises how pension schemes emerged from the employment relationship. One thing that really worries me about leaving it to the regulator is that there is not a single person on the board of the Pensions Regulator who has any experience of employment or industrial relations, or at least not significant enough for them to put it in their biographical details.
I have one final point. This debate is about open schemes, as others have mentioned. I do not want anyone to think that the situation is that there is no more debate to be had about closed schemes. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, mentioned the issue of closed schemes. I concur with what has been said there, and that we have to get that right as well; there is more debate to be had on that issue. It is not just about open schemes. So there will be a continuing debate, but I hope the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance about the treatment of open schemes.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, whose name was left off the list inadvertently.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies. No doubt we will welcome his expertise and experience into what is already a considerable group of experts and knowledgeable people in your Lordships’ House.
I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Bowles. I pay tribute to her for the way in which she has pursued this matter with great skill and tenacity by working across the parties and seeking agreement on a way forward. There is clearly a problem for open DB schemes, as has been expressed to us already, particularly by the railway workers’ union but also by other pension funds. Clearly, as my noble friend has said, it is unrealistic and wrong for the same restraints to be imposed on open DB schemes that are not destined for closure in the immediate future as those imposed on closed schemes. As others have said, if that were to be the case, currently open DB schemes not on the path to maturity would suffer and may close as a result, with dire effects for their membership and a considerable impact on the wider economy.
I very much welcome the Minister’s opening statement, in which she indicated her willingness to ensure that open schemes not on the path to maturity should not be prevented from making more beneficial investments. I hope the five points clearly outlined by my noble friend Lady Bowles will form the basis of the future operation of these healthy open schemes, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to.
I too record my thanks to all those who have contributed to the Bill, such as the ministerial team, who have provided information and expert advice, and noble Lords who have demonstrated their knowledge, experience and expertise in considering the Bill. They have shown how this House has not only provided scrutiny and challenge but enabled improvements to the legislation and benefits to those who will depend on this in future.
I thank the Minister and her colleague in the other place for their willingness to keep an open mind and not only to listen but to take on board suggestions and use their best endeavours to address the issues raised by Members. I also thank all the teams supporting Members, particularly Sarah Pughe in the Lib Dem office, who has provided us with marvellous support. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response and hope that it will reassure my colleague that she is able to let this matter move forward and that her concerns will be listened to and acted upon.
Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? I think probably not.
My Lords, I will first respond to the question of my noble friend Lady Altmann on long-term horizons. The scheme funding measures in the Bill, together with secondary legislation and a revised scheme funding code of practice, seek to support trustees and employers to manage this scheme funding with a focus on longer term planning. As now, the scheme’s liquidity requirements, investment timelines and the amount of risk each scheme can support will depend on factors including its maturity and the strength of its employer covenant. Trustees can and do invest in illiquid assets such as infrastructure, and our measures do not seek to discourage such investments where they are appropriate.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for his contribution. The thought of being locked out of a sweet shop gives me more heartache than your Lordships will know. We will do our very best to make sure that it does not happen again. We welcome the noble Lord to the House and have no doubt that he will add a lot of expertise. He has joined the formidable band of brothers on pensions and we are very glad he is with us.
I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Sherlock, for their amendments. I am also grateful to all those who have contributed to the debates we had relating to schemes that are open to new members. They have been highly influential and have helped us refine our thinking on how schemes in these circumstances should be treated. The Government are very sympathetic to the thinking behind these amendments, but there are good reasons why we do not want to deal with these matters on the face of the Bill.
One of the main drivers behind our reforms to the scheme funding arrangement is the desire to be able to more effectively tackle the small minority of schemes and employers who push the flexibilities of our scheme-specific arrangements further than is appropriate, to the detriment of their members. As the detail of the arrangements is necessarily complex, there is a real risk that attempting to deal with it in primary legislation will inadvertently weaken the funding regime as a whole and undermine the ability of the Pensions Regulator to tackle the very issues that these reforms were designed to address. Rather, we think that the best place to deal with these matters is in regulations—following a full consultation. That way, we can work closely with the full range of interested parties, effectively calibrate the system and get the right balance between member security and employer affordability. By placing such matters in regulations, we will retain the flexibility in the future to adjust the relevant parameters should the evolving economic situation demand it.
What I can do now is set out some key principles of how we will proceed with framing the secondary legislation, which I am happy to put on the record and am confident will provide noble Lords with the reassurance they are looking for. Much of our original thinking was driven by the fact that most schemes are closed and maturing, but we completely accept that we need to be clearer about our thinking on other important groups of schemes. These are the schemes that continue to admit new members. Many of these schemes will not be maturing in the same way as closed schemes and some of them will be admitting sufficient new members to avoid maturing at all. A genuinely scheme-specific approach has to recognise the characteristics of such schemes and treat them appropriately. I am therefore grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and others for helping us to focus our thinking on these schemes. Let me make it clear now that the Government, having further considered the debate on the Bill and feedback from the pensions industry, fully intend that the defined benefit funding regime will remain scheme specific, and any bespoke approach should build on this foundation. This regime will continue to apply flexibility to take account of individual scheme circumstances.
The department confirms that detailed provisions for ongoing defined benefit funding, including any necessary assessment criteria and metrics, will be set out in regulations and in the Pension Regulator’s defined benefit funding code of practice, which will acknowledge the position of open and less mature schemes. As noble Lords have said, Ministers at the DWP have gone to great lengths to make themselves available to those who have pressed them on the position of schemes that remain open to new members. Both Ministers and officials have had extensive discussions with interested Peers, and others, including on schemes that remain open to new members. I also understand that interested Peers have been able to discuss these matters in detail with senior officials at the Pensions Regulator. This has been a highly productive engagement and, as I have said, it has been instrumental in guiding us to a better and more refined policy position. That is something I expect to continue.
Prior to the publication of the draft regulations, the Government can commit to an engagement programme with interested parties, including a range of schemes. These will include those remaining open and immature. They will launch a consultation document informed by this engagement. The Government will also publish a regulatory impact assessment of the draft regulations and the Pensions Regulator will publish an impact assessment alongside its revised funding code. These will include analyses of different de-risking approaches on members and sponsors of all schemes, including those that are open or immature, and those that are not targeting buyout.
We absolutely do not want to see good and viable defined benefit schemes close unnecessarily. We want them to be treated on their merits in a truly scheme-specific regime. We have said that open schemes should be able to provide the same level of security for members as closed schemes. I want to make it absolutely clear that this does not mean that they necessarily need to invest in the same way. We simply mean that members in an open scheme should be able to enjoy the same level of confidence that the benefits they have worked hard to build up will be paid in full, as for members in a closed scheme. We completely agree that open schemes that are not maturing and have a strong employer covenant should not be forced into an inappropriate de-risking journey. We will ensure that such schemes and employers which can support a higher risk and higher expected reward investment strategy can continue to invest in this way. If they are already doing the right thing, they should not need to significantly increase contributions as a result of these new measures.
The Government accept that for some schemes, depending on the circumstances, de-risking is not the best way to safeguard members’ benefits. Member benefits can be best safeguarded by an appropriate integrated risk management strategy determined after careful analysis by the trustees, which takes account of time horizon, liquidity, employer covenant and appropriate diversification.
This is the way that we intend to proceed as, with the help of close engagement with interested parties, we work on the regulations that will set out the detail of how the funding regime will operate. I hope that what I have said reassures noble Lords of our intentions and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have not received any requests to speak after the Minister, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, to reply.
My Lords, I am not normally a speaker on DWP matters—I am usually in the business and Treasury box—but, after a first foray on this Bill, or into this sweet shop, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, would put it, maybe I should come again.
I thank all those who have spoken in this debate. The issues have already been explained and the Minister in reply has given the reassurances that were sought. Before I formally withdraw the amendment, I thank the Minister for the way in which these proceedings have been conducted, for her geniality and openness and, similarly, thank the officials from the department and the Pensions Regulator, and everyone for tolerating me.
As has been said, the issues are complex and interlinked. I am grateful to hear the Minister say that the debate around this has been influential and has refined thinking. I acknowledge that some employers will abuse the system and, because of its complexity, I accept that the Government do not want to put words into the Bill that are hard to change and which might give rise to unintended consequences. Of course, I would have preferred to see a little something there, but I understand the reasoning. I accept that there will be good consultation around the regulations and that all of us are looking for the same results.
I thank again noble Lords who have spoken today and supported me in my previous endeavours and all those who gave their expertise in earlier stages of the Bill. I am pleased that we are joined by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, and think that we will benefit from his presence greatly in future. Others who have also assisted include my noble friend Lord Sharkey from these Benches, as well as the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Young. I also thank the various pension schemes that have been generous with their time and information, so we were able to look at the sort of spread of assets and risks that they were talking about and did not come to this debate without a good basis of information; we knew that our arguments were supported.
It has been a good co-operative effort. I doubt that it is the end of the story, as there will be more consultations and things to watch. I hope and expect that the engagement with noble Lords by the Minister and the department and our co-operation with one another will continue. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion 4A withdrawn.
Motion 4C (as an amendment to the Motion on Amendment 4)
4D: Schedule 10, page 185, line 29, at end insert—
“221C Guiding objectives
(1) In exercising any powers to make regulations or otherwise to prescribe any matter of principle under this Part, the objectives of the Secretary of State must include supporting the ability of the trustees of a relevant scheme to decide the funding and investment strategy for the scheme taking into account the current and future maturity and liquidity of the relevant scheme consistent with the trustees’ duty to invest assets in the best interests of members and beneficiaries.
(2) In subsection (1), “relevant scheme” means an occupational pension scheme that is not near significant maturity and is open to new members and is reasonably expected to remain so, either indefinitely or for a significant period of time.””
Motion 4C not moved.
Motion on Amendment 4 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 5
5: Clause 132, page 125, line 17, leave out subsection (2)
Motion on Amendment 5 agreed.