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House of Lords Hansard
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Pension Schemes Bill [HL]
28 November 2016
Volume 777

Committee (2nd Day)

Relevant document: 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Clause 26 agreed.

Clause 27: Content of implementation strategy

Amendment 42 not moved.

Clause 27 agreed.

Clause 28: Duty to pursue continuity option

Amendments 43 and 44 not moved.

Clause 28 agreed.

Clauses 29 and 30 agreed.

Clause 31: Pause orders

Amendment 45

Moved by

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45: Clause 31, page 21, line 36, after “necessary” insert “or prudent”

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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 45 and to the other amendments in this group. My noble friend Lord McKenzie will speak to Amendment 47A.

Clause 31, taken with Schedule 1, provides a power for the regulator to pause certain master trust activities once a triggering event such as a wind-up has occurred. That power can be exercised if there is an immediate threat to the assets of the scheme or it is in the interests of the generality of the scheme members. A pause order prevents new members coming in, payments being made, further contributions being received or benefits being paid. That is a sensible provision. The administrative and accounting records of the master trust or of other companies used by the trust to hold investments or provide services may be in a mess. It may not be clear who is entitled to what. Evidence of fraud may emerge during a triggering event. The early years experience of the Pension Protection Fund when accessing schemes that have the mix of DB and DC benefits revealed just how poor the records could be and the problems that that throws up.

The amendments in this group in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie are directed at how the pause will work in practice. Clause 31(4) restricts the use of a pause order to circumstances in which there is,

“an immediate risk to the interests of members … or the assets … and … it is necessary”,

to act. Amendment 45 adds the words “or prudent” after the word “necessary” to protect members’ interests, as a condition to be met if a pause order is to be made. The intention behind inserting that phrase is to give the regulator greater discretion and an ability to act more cautiously and earlier than is suggested by the word “necessary”—and, indeed, before a risk has crystallised—to allow the regulator to mitigate emerging risks to members and take action when in their informed view it would be prudent to do so. The power to issue a pause order comes into effect only when there is a triggering event, when a failure of some kind has already occurred, which means that the likelihood of a risk to the assets or members crystallising is greater, so allowing a prudent approach in those circumstances seems sensible.

If a pause order is in place, Clause 31 provides that no subsequent pension contributions due to be paid into the scheme by or on behalf of the member or employer can be paid, and any pension contributions deductions from a member’s earnings will be repaid to them. Under the Bill as drafted, the total period during which a pause order can be in place is six months, but the Government have tabled Amendment 52, which will allow the regulator to extend the pause order on one or more occasions, unconstrained by the six-month limit. So, the pause order could stay in place for quite a long time. During the period when the pause order is in place, the member loses the ability to save for a pension through the workplace scheme, loses the tax relief and loses the employer’s contribution due under auto-enrolment. It is harsh on the individual to lose pension savings and interrupt the harnessing of inertia in auto-enrolment, when through no fault of theirs a master trust fails.

Amendment 46 would address that loss to the member by requiring that pension contributions that would otherwise have been due to a member should be held in an escrow account or otherwise under arrangements to be specified by the regulator. Those contributions could be held somewhere safe until the pause order is lifted and then paid into members’ individual pension pots. It would not be necessary for the money held to be invested so as to gain value that reflects what the member would have received if the original scheme had not been wound up. Holding it in a cash fund could be sufficient.

Does the Minister agree that it is harsh and unfair for workers to lose savings in their pension pots under auto-enrolment as a consequence of a master trust’s failure? Will he consider a provision allowing the pension contributions otherwise due by and held on behalf of the scheme member to continue to be paid into an appropriate holding vehicle during the period of the pause order? Clause 31 allows a pause order to prevent the making of payments and the paying out of benefits while it is in place. Depending on how such an order is applied, and for how long, that could pose real problems for some members of the scheme. Amendment 50 would allow payments to be paid for someone in ill health. For example, an older person with debilitating chronic ill health or a terminal illness could be in real difficulty if they were denied access to pension savings that they needed to live on. How is it intended that the pause order regulations will address the needs of people in ill health?

Master trusts will receive pension contributions into members’ pots, but they will also pay out money to members accessing their savings. Where a scheme member has been relying on such payments to live, and may have standing orders in place for their bills, if payments are suddenly ceased they could be in some difficulty. How will the pause order regulations address the needs of those people, particularly pensioners, who are dependent on payments received from the master trust? As I said in opening, the provision for a pause order seems sensible: it is the manner in which that order is operated that could cause unfairness or difficulties.

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My Lords, I support these amendments, and I would like to probe the Minister on what the pause order is really meant to achieve. As the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, has just asked, how does he envisage it will work in practice? If a pause order is introduced by the Pensions Regulator, it is likely that an employer will be in breach of its auto-enrolment duties and potentially in breach of contract with its employees. In those circumstances, we could need some of the bulk DC transfer regulations, which we have discussed and I hope we may come to later, to enable a scheme to ensure that such transfers can be made relatively swiftly and without too much expense—perhaps before a triggering event, although the proposal is currently only if there is a triggering event. That would require some of the existing regulations that are made with DB schemes in mind to be undone.

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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the debate last Monday when a number of amendments were considered. Today should bring an equally interesting discussion on a slightly broader range of topics. This group relates to the new pause power introduced in Clause 31, and includes some amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and some tabled by me. I thank the Committee for its forbearance in considering government amendments at this stage.

I turn first to Amendments 45, 46 and 50. Amendment 45 would diminish the threshold of the conditions that must be met for the Pensions Regulator to be able to use the new pause power. The pause power can have a significant impact on the scheme and the members. We therefore think, as with existing freezing orders, that it should be used only where it is necessary to do so. There are, of course, other protections for members which apply automatically at the point a triggering event occurs—namely, the prohibition on the master trusts permitting new employers to join the scheme or to enter into an agreement with the scheme to make sure that new employers are not joining a scheme that is at risk of closure. There are also the charges restrictions.

I appreciate the intent behind Amendment 46, which seeks to provide for continuity of savings by the member while contributions are paused under the pause power. However, my first concern with this amendment is that its effect could be such that it would be for the Pensions Regulator to hold the fund. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, mentioned that when she talked about a holding vehicle. This is not an appropriate intervention and I would not support the idea of the regulator stepping in or being involved in this way. That is to step beyond the regulator’s function, which would require additional legal provision and protection.

My second concern is about the potential complexity and cost implications for employers or others in setting up this alternative savings vehicle. In particular, I question whether the cost and complexity is necessary given the fact this power will be used only in extreme circumstances, and, we would expect, for a limited period of time. Using these pause orders to stop contributions will be used only in exceptional circumstances and for short periods of time. They can initially last for up to three months, with the possibility of extending if they continue to be needed.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has also tabled Amendment 47A on tax treatment, which would provide that contributions in the form of tax relief at source would not be subject to the pause order. This amendment is unnecessary. I reassure the noble Lord that if the intent is to ensure RAS rebates which are due on contributions due before the pause order is in place, but which are paid after the pause order is made, Clause 31(6)(a) already achieves this. However, when I read Amendment 47A with Amendment 46, I wonder whether the intent is broader than this. If instead the intent is to ensure pension RAS tax treatment of the contributions being paid into an escrow or another account during the pause power, I am far from clear that this is achieved without also needing changes to complex tax law. However, the key issue here is that I do not think Amendment 46 works or achieves the right balance of cost and complexity for the rare occasions on which this type of pause order is likely to be used.

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If there is no such provision as that in Amendment 46, what exactly protects members and employers by ensuring that they can continue with their legal duties to contribute to pension schemes for their members under auto-enrolment? Currently, it is not clear to me how it is intended that this pause order will fit with the legal obligations or contracts between the employer and the employee in relation to ongoing pension contributions.

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I think I am right in saying that the pause order would effectively trump those obligations while it is operating. However, I will come back on the detail of that. I think that is accurate. That is why it is in the legislation—so that there is legal clarity about the obligations people have when they pay into a scheme that is formally paused by the regulator.

Under Amendment 50, the pause order would not be able to prevent payments with regard to ill health benefits. The current provisions mirror those in the Pensions Act 2004 with regard to the Pensions Regulator’s freezing order. I am not convinced that there is sufficient argument on why this should differ to those provisions. In particular, the pause order direction can specify payments, so—in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake—the regulator will be able to consider whether to use the power to stop such payments.

The provisions in Schedule 1 to which the noble Baroness has added her amendments make it clear that there is no impact on orders made on divorce which modify members’ rights in the scheme. They do not provide for generalised exemptions to the power to prevent transfers under the pause order. The amendment would mean that, regardless of the situation, ill health payments could not be affected by a pause order. Government Amendment 47 would enable the regulator to tailor the pause order to the circumstances with regard to stopping benefit payments. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that that solution is better than the one in Amendment 50. That would include being able to apply the pause to specified benefits and specified members, and in a way that would take account of the specific case and situation. I therefore trust that this gives some comfort that the regulator could consider certain types of membership.

To come back to the question raised by my noble friend Lady Altmann, on the legal duty for employers, paragraph 13 of Schedule 3 ensures that a pause order will not cause employers to fall foul of their legal duties. I am glad to be able to confirm that.

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Does that also apply to a contract between the employer and the employee for pension contributions rather than just under auto-enrolment, if it is a term of the employment contract?

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I think that the situation is the same—the fact that you have primary legislation will allow that to happen. I will clarify that, but I think that is the point of primary legislation.

I make the point to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, that the Pensions Regulator will make a pause order only under carefully considered circumstances. The pause order may last for the duration of a triggering event period but is not likely to continue for a significant length of time, and the regulator must weigh up the potential impacts on members when considering whether to issue such an order.

I shall now turn to the government amendments on the pause power.

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My Lords, perhaps I might speak to my amendment in this group, which he has answered in part. That might make it a tidier process.

The purpose of Amendment 47A is to look at the issue of tax relief, as the Minister has identified. Under the pause provisions, an order can direct that no new members are to be admitted to the scheme and no further contributions and payments are to be paid towards the scheme by, or on behalf of, any employer or members. This does not apply, under Clause 31(6), to,

“contributions due to be paid before the order takes effect … and … references to payments … include payments in respect of pension credits”.

Our amendment seeks to make it clear that amounts recoverable by the provider from HMRC in respect of tax relief attributable to the permitted contributions—that is, those paid before the order—will still be available to the master trust. For the purposes of Clause 31(6)(a), it is presumed that the tax component is a contribution or payment. If so, do the mechanics of how relief at source operates mean that the HMRC payment is due to be paid before the order if the related contribution is—there is a timing issue here—or is it proposed that there will be some form of carve-out for the tax relief under Clause 31(5)(b)?

The intention behind the amendment was to probe that narrow issue rather than to achieve a wider objective, but of course it raises the wider issue of the amounts of the two forms of tax relief, touched upon in particular at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. They set down very clearly the problem for schemes operating net pay arrangements for individuals who do not pay income tax, in contrast to those who use the relief at source method and can get tax relief at 20% on the first £2,880 paid into a pension—equivalent to a gross of £3,600. Those who are not subject to income tax and are within the net pay method are clearly missing out. The extent to which they miss out in aggregate may not be dramatic at present and will be influenced by auto-enrolment thresholds or current required contribution levels and the income tax threshold—the personal allowance. However, this will increase as more and more auto-enrolment takes place, the required contribution increases to 3% and there is still a gap—possibly a widening gap—between the threshold and the income tax personal allowance.

Can the Minister tell us how many non-taxpayers are currently contributing to a pension under net pay arrangements and could benefit from relief at source, and what is the aggregate tax benefit forgone? Going back to my earlier point, the amendment is intended specifically to focus on the technical issue of how that tax is garnered and paid before the cut-off point of the pause order.

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My Lords, on that narrow point, I hope that I can again reassure the noble Lord that, when those rebates are due, before the pause order is in place, we have a way of making sure that they are paid—through Clause 31(6)(a). It may be easier for me to write to the noble Lord and describe that process, but I think that it achieves what he is looking for. I will have to provide the figures on the net pay separately but will write to him on those, too.

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I would be grateful if the noble Lord could write on that specific point because I am struggling to see how a contribution—particularly one which comes in fairly late in relation to the date of the pause order—could immediately be converted into a receipt from HMRC, which is what I think the Bill requires.

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This is really a specific point, but I will write to the noble Lord both on the numbers and on how the process will work. I hope that that will be satisfactory and that we can then dispose of the matter for the purposes of later stages of the Bill.

I turn to government Amendments 47, 48, 49 and 52. These are intended to provide further clarity and some tidying up of the provision. They are based on further consideration of the comparisons with the Pension Regulator’s freezing-order power in the Pensions Act 2004, and are intended to ensure that they work sufficiently in a triggering event period. Amendment 47 makes clear that the pause power can be used to prevent benefits being paid out. Following the introduction of the Bill to the House, we have received some inquiries as to whether this is achieved through the provisions in the Bill. That was our intent, and as the freezing-order power makes separate provision to cover this aspect, we have, through Amendment 47, made an equivalent and explicit provision in respect of the pause order. Amendment 48 inserts a missing definition of “pension credit”, which was an oversight, and mirrors the freezing-order power. Amendment 49 is consequential to Amendment 47, and ensures that members retain their entitlement to any benefit payments affected by the pause order.

It is critical that the Pensions Regulator can use the new pause power to protect members’ interests under the scheme and assets of the scheme. However, it is also important that members’ entitlements should remain unaffected by the use of the pause order, so that the effect is not counterproductive. I apologise that this was not ready for inclusion at introduction, but I trust that its effect and intent are acceptable to noble Lords. Indeed, quite a few of the questions and amendments have been around this issue.

Amendment 52 means that the pause order can be extended until the end of the triggering event period. The Bill as introduced allowed for multiple extensions of the pause order but with a limit of six months. The amendment removes the six-month limit to ensure that the pause order can apply to protect members where needed, and through the end of the trigger period if absolutely necessary.

The second set of government amendments in this group are technical and consequential in nature. Amendment 51 allows for regulations that modify transfer provisions for existing legislation to override scheme rules. Amendments 66 to 71 and 74 and 75 make further consequential amendments ensuring that references to scheme rules in the Pension Schemes Act 1993, Pensions Act 1995 and Pensions Act 2004 incorporate references to such overriding provision.

In conclusion, I hope that noble Lords will support these amendments.

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I thank the Minister for his detailed response to the particular issues I raised in the amendments that I spoke to. However, I do not find the arguments very convincing. The noble Lord said that a pause order would be exceptional—I very much hope it would be, because it would mean that the preceding authorisation and supervision regime had not been very successful. But looking forward, even in an exceptional circumstance, the numbers affected in a failing master trust could be quite significant. It is clear how large the footprint of those trusts will become. What will remain is that it is unfair to the individual during a pause order because the employee loses a contractual and statutory right to contributions, and the employer fails to honour a statutory and contractual obligation to make contributions. Unless the Minister wishes to direct me to a provision in the Bill, I can find nothing that protects the individual or the employer from breaches in those statutory provisions.

Unfortunately, I do not have with me the letter that the Pensions Minister wrote to my noble friend Lord McKenzie and me in response to a meeting of Peers on 8 November, where the Minister conceded that the Government had not fully considered a provision that would allow those contributions to be held in some alternative vehicle while the pause order was in place. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has said, there is a breach of a statutory obligation potentially arising from a term within this Bill.

The Pensions Regulator need not hold the funds. The Pensions Regulator would clear the arrangements, consistent with any regulations that were set, but the holder of the funds could be an alternative operator or provider, which regulation or the Pensions Regulator could choose to identify. The records that come in from the employer should still be possible because, immediately before the pause order, the employer would have to provide records of contributions collected and paid. No failure is being posed in terms of the employer, so records should be available for reconciliation quite quickly if those contributions are held in some kind of cash account or cash fund.

I note the Minister’s comment that the Pensions Regulator has a discretion as to what payments it does or does not prevent being paid out during a pause order, but it is concerning that we do not have clarity on the policy thinking around how those with serious ill health or real income dependency on their savings would be dealt with in a pause order situation, should they be embraced or potentially embraced by the terms of the order. I fully understand the need for an exceptional power, if evidence of fraud emerges in the records, for the regulator to have some control over payments made or contributions received, but at the moment the way in which it is proposed that this pause order would operate seems unfair on the individuals, puts the employer in breach of a statutory obligation and leaves unclear what protections would be afforded to the most vulnerable who may be impacted by that pause order.

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Let me just respond. The difference is that we are trying to get control of an obviously difficult situation. The pause is to allow the regulator to go in and make sure that the situation is sorted. We are not talking about keeping the flow of things going in a normal way; we are talking about a very difficult situation. We are worrying about losing the money that is already there, not about the smooth flow. We are typically talking about a very short period. Setting up large paraphernalia, which the noble Baroness is beginning to drift towards, would not be the point. The real point is to get the funds transferred as quickly as possible.

The noble Baroness asked where the legislation is. I can direct her to Clause 31(5)(c), which states that any contributions not paid over to the scheme are returned to the member, and paragraph 13 of Schedule 3, which ensures that the pause order will not cause employers to fall foul of their legal duties. I hope that that helps the noble Baroness in her consideration of what we are doing.

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I have a couple more probing questions for my noble friend. The pause order is obviously intended to be used only in exceptional circumstances and in extreme concern about the solvency or probity of the master trust itself. I can certainly understand that, in that situation, one would not want to take any new employers, so it would pause adding any new employers. But it still seems that there is no protection for the ongoing accrual of members’ pension benefits, which is what we are trying to do with auto-enrolment. If the procedures suggested in the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, are not considered appropriate—in other words, for the regulator itself to collect in the contributions—would it not be prudent at this stage and before the legislation is passed to have a proper plan for how ongoing contributions can be made and collected, perhaps through some form of bulk defined contribution transfer, even on a temporary basis, for members without consent to another master trust? At this stage we should produce such a plan rather than wait and hope that it will be okay.

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I am grateful to my noble friend. There are different processes going on and the intention of the pause order is not to be the paraphernalia for sorting out a scheme that is in difficulty. What we are looking at is a process we can go to where we can discuss option 1 and option 2 in order to transfer the funds to a better functioning scheme. While we are doing that, we are pausing it to allow the process to happen. It is important to view the two things on more of a sequential basis than trying to make a big performance of the pause order. It is there for a different reason: it allows us to get on with sorting out the scheme and making the transfers that my noble friend is looking for.

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I thank the Minister. He has said that the pause order will be short, but the problem is that the noble Lord contradicts himself because the Government have just tabled their Amendment 52 which removes the six-month limit on a pause order. That implies that situations are anticipated where the pause order would need not to be short and certainly in excess of six months.

I am certainly not looking for complicated paraphernalia here, although I would suggest that working through whether individuals are due a refund of contributions and sorting out the tax implications of such a refund could indeed be very complicated. My noble friend and I have suggested something simpler. The employer will still have the statutory obligation so it will have its records and collect the contributions. It was a question of having something simple for holding those contributions during the period of the pause order so that they can subsequently be reconciled against the individual members; it certainly does not need to be overly complicated.

I accept the noble Lord’s point that the driving force for a pause order is to deal with a threat to the assets or the scheme members’ interests in general, but in resolving that bigger problem it appears that the detail of the route being taken is unnecessarily unfair in terms of its impact on the statutory and contractual rights of individuals to continue having access to pension savings. I think that we have gone into the detail of this issue at some considerable length in this exchange, but I do feel that the Government have not explained satisfactorily why the contributions cannot be held during the pause order without believing that this needs to be terribly complex. They have not addressed the issue that this will put individuals in a position where they are denied their statutory and contractual rights for a period, and an employer in breach of its statutory duties, and there remains a lack of clarity in thinking about the impact on vulnerable people in the manner in which the pause order is introduced. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 45 withdrawn.

Amendment 46 not moved.

Amendment 47

Moved by

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47: Clause 31, page 22, line 11, at end insert—

“(ca) a direction that no benefits (or no specified benefits) are to be paid to or in respect of any members (or any specified members) under the scheme rules;”

Amendment 47 agreed.

Amendment 47A not moved.

Amendment 48

Moved by

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48: Clause 31, page 22, line 36, at end insert—

““pension credit” means a credit under section 29(1)(b) of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 or under corresponding Northern Ireland legislation;”

Amendment 48 agreed.

Clause 31, as amended, agreed.

Schedule 1: Pause orders

Amendment 49

Moved by

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49: Schedule 1, page 30, line 26, at end insert “, and

(ii) a direction under section 31(5)(ca) does not prevent the payment becoming due.”

Amendment 49 agreed.

Amendment 50 not moved.

Amendments 51 and 52

Moved by

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51: Schedule 1, page 31, line 23, at end insert—

“(6A) Regulations under sub-paragraph (6) override any provision of the Master Trust scheme, to the extent that there is a conflict.”

52: Schedule 1, page 31, line 40, leave out from “effect” to end of line 41 and insert “for a further three months.”

Amendments 51 and 52 agreed.

Amendment 53 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 32 to 36 agreed.

Schedule 2: Master Trusts operating before commencement: transitional provision

Amendment 54 not moved.

Amendment 55

Moved by

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55: Schedule 2, page 37, line 16, leave out “application has not yet been determined” and insert “decision on the application has not yet become final (see section 35)”

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I thank noble Lords for allowing me to speak to these amendments. Once again, please accept my sincere apologies for proposing these amendments now rather than including them in the draft Bill as introduced. Most of my proposed amendments modify the procedures the Pensions Regulator must follow when exercising some of the new functions introduced by the Bill.

Amendments 58 to 65 and Amendments 73 and 76 change the procedure that the regulator must follow when making a decision on an application for authorisation from an existing master trust scheme. The majority of the Pensions Regulator’s statutory functions are exercised through internal procedure known as “standard procedure”, with “special procedure” applying to certain functions where there is an immediate risk to members or assets. These procedures are set out in the Pensions Act 2004. The Bill as introduced provides for standard and special procedure to apply to the power to grant or refuse authorisation to an existing master trust scheme. However, on further consideration, we do not believe that some of the steps involved in these procedures would be appropriate.

The standard procedure provides for the issuing of a “warning notice” to such persons who, in the view of the regulator, would be directly affected by the regulatory action under consideration. They would then have the opportunity to make representations before a decision could be made about whether to exercise the regulatory function. This means that the Pensions Regulator would be obliged to send the trustees of an existing scheme such a notice after the trustees submit an application for authorisation.

In this instance, the regulatory action the notice would refer to would be the power to grant or refuse authorisation. It would not be necessary to warn the trustees that the regulator intends to take this regulatory action and make this decision, nor would it be appropriate to invite further representations at this point as the trustees would have submitted all necessary representations in their application. Special procedure, which dispenses with the warning notice and representations steps in the first instance, could be used only when the regulator considers there is an immediate risk to the interests of the members or assets of the scheme.

Amendments 58 to 65 and Amendments 73 and 76 would align the process of deciding whether to grant authorisation to an existing master trust with the process the Bill specifies for making this decision for new schemes. However, the amendments retain the requirement that the decision to grant or refuse authorisations must be made by the determinations panel of the Pensions Regulator. This is appropriate because in both situations a scheme operating in the market will be required to transfer members out to an authorised master trust scheme and to wind up. The impact of this is significant, and under these circumstances it is appropriate for the determinations panel to make the decision. The amendments I propose would maintain rights of appeal to the First-tier or Upper Tribunal should the decision be to refuse authorisation. The amendments would simply remove unnecessary steps and delay.

Amendment 55 has a slightly different purpose. It would ensure that if an existing master trust scheme—that is, a master trust in operation before the commencement date—submits an application for authorisation and the Pensions Regulator decides to refuse authorisation, it would not have to commence the process of transferring members out and winding up until any appeals are disposed of.

The final amendments I seek to move within this group are Amendments 72 and 77, which also deal with changes in procedure, but in relation to different regulatory powers within the Bill. The regulator has a power to direct the trustees of an authorised master trust to comply with the requirements of Clause 26 in relation to the implementation strategy. Where there is no strong reason to specify a different procedure, it is right that the regulator’s functions should be subject to the standard procedure, and for this reason Amendment 72 makes this power to direct subject to that procedure. In addition, where the trustees of a master trust should be following an approved implementation strategy but are failing to do so, under Clause 28(4) the regulator has the power to direct the trustees to pursue the continuity option identified in the strategy and to take such steps as are identified in the strategy to carry it out.

Amendment 77 makes this a power which can only be exercised by the determinations panel under standard procedure. The Government consider this appropriate, as it is a power which may have a significant impact on the scheme and its members. I hope I have given a thorough explanation of my proposed amendments. I thank noble Lords again for bearing with me in bringing these amendments at this stage of the Bill process, and I beg to move.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full explanation of these provisions. I am bound to say that we would like to study them a bit further and bring something forward on Report, if necessary, but I thank the Minister and the Bill team for supplying us with a Keeling schedule, which made these provisions somewhat less impenetrable than they might otherwise have been. As far as the panel is concerned, we discussed the issue of resources available to the regulator before. Will the determinations panel have the necessary resources available to it, and how speedily can it act and pick up these matters?

I have two brief questions on Amendments 73 and 76, which delete particular provisions in the Bill. Amendment 76, for example, deletes:

“The power to grant or refuse authorisation of a Master Trust scheme in operation on the commencement date under section 5”.

I presume that power is being deleted because it flows to the determinations panel, but will the Minister just clarify that for us?

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I am pleased to do that. My understanding is that the second assumption is correct: Amendment 76 moves it over to the determinations panel and I spelled out last Monday the process by which we will get the financial resources required by the Pensions Regulator. Clearly, one of the issues in that process will be the funds required to operate the determinations panel.

Amendment 55 agreed.

Amendment 56

Moved by

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56: Schedule 2, page 37, line 39, leave out “six” and insert “three”

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My Lords, this small, probing amendment would reduce the application period from six months to three. It was conceived by seeking to deal with the question: for how long can an authorised master trust remain in operation unauthorised under these provisions? That is what sparked the thoughts. I acknowledge that the consequential amendment to paragraph 8(7), which should have followed, has not been made, so in effect we have just part of the amendment here.

The purpose of this probe is to test the rationale for the length of the period during which an existing master trust can continue to operate without authorisation. As it stands, a master trust must apply for authorisation by the end of the application period. The application period in the Bill is six months—three in our amendment—beginning with the commencement date. The commencement date is the date on which Clause 3—“Prohibition on operating a scheme unless authorised”—comes into force, which is to be fixed by the Secretary of State but is expected to be some two years away. The Pensions Regulator must make a decision on the application within six months and, if it is refused, can be referred by the trustees or others to the tribunal.

From today, absent an appeal, an existing master trust could remain in operation for two years before the commencement date; then there are six months before it applies, with a six-week extension, and six months during which the Pensions Regulator must give it consideration, assuming that there is no appeal. This is potentially a long time. It is accepted that the transitional provisions will be in place from the date the Act is passed, or 20 October, concerning triggering events, the prohibition on increasing charges and the scheme funder’s liability for the costs of winding up the scheme. Of course, all this is happening nearly two years after the commencement of auto-enrolment, which has been the spur to the growth of master trusts.

My plea is: should we not be making faster progress? Given the commitment to consult on regulations, the shape of the detail required for an application will surely be evolving long before the commencement date. Is there not a way we can make faster progress in this very important area, where billions of pounds of people’s investments are at risk? I beg to move.

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My Lords, as we have just heard, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, would reduce the time period an existing master trust scheme will have in which to apply for authorisation from the commencement of the relevant provisions of the Bill from six to three months. While I have some sympathy with the amendment, for the reasons set out by the noble Lord, the Government’s view, which is informed in part by the Pensions Regulator, is that there is a compelling case for allowing a maximum of six months.

My expectation is that some schemes will have relatively little to do in order to align their businesses with the new requirements and, as a result, will be in a position to apply for authorisation early in the six-month application window. Others may face more of a challenge and may need time to consider the final legislation in full—including, of course, the regulations, which will come out next year—before they determine whether to apply for authorisation or withdraw from the market. We do not want to risk losing good schemes from the market because they have not had sufficient time to make the necessary changes to meet these new requirements. Having consulted the regulator, our view is that six months will give schemes the time they are likely to need.

I appreciate the noble Lord’s concern that members should be protected as quickly as possible but we must get the balance right between achieving that and placing demands on existing businesses. As I think the noble Lord recognised in his remarks, an additional key protection for members is set out in the Bill, which will apply from the beginning of the application window. This is in addition to the retrospective provisions in the Bill, which mean that a scheme that experiences a triggering event from 20 October this year will be unable to increase charges on members to pay for scheme wind-up. The additional protection is that if a scheme experiences a triggering event during this period, and the regulator has reason to believe that there is an immediate risk to the interests of scheme members, the regulator will have the ability to issue a pause order under Clause 31, which we have just been discussing, regardless of whether or not the scheme has submitted an application for authorisation.

Finally, on the overall length of time it will take, as the Bill stands, from the date on which regulations fully commence master trust schemes will have six months to submit an application for authorisation. The Pensions Regulator will then have six months from the point of receiving an application to decide whether to grant or refuse authorisation. This means that the vast majority of existing schemes will be either authorised or not authorised within one year of full commencement. Where trustees are unsuccessful, they can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal or the Upper Tribunal. The master trust will be able to continue operating pending the outcome of that appeal.

Although I understand the noble Lord’s desire to ensure that the schemes become authorised quickly—after all, the whole purpose of the Bill is to move to a position where all master trust schemes operating in the market have satisfied the Pensions Regulator that they meet the requirements for authorisation—we must strike a balance between increasing protection for scheme members and placing requirements on the master trust industry. Having consulted the Pensions Regulator, the Government’s view, as I said, is that allowing six months for applications from the commencement of regulations strikes the right balance. For those reasons, I invite the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, to consider withdrawing his amendment.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply—which was not unanticipated. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 56 withdrawn.

Amendment 57

Moved by

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57: Schedule 2, page 38, line 9, at end insert—

“3A Existing Master Trust schemes: pause orders(1) This section applies where the trustees of an existing Master Trust scheme have applied for authorisation of the scheme under section 4 and the decision on the application has not yet become final (see section 35).(2) The Pensions Regulator may make a pause order in relation to the scheme if it is satisfied that—(a) there is, or is likely to be if a pause order is not made, an immediate risk to the interests of members under the scheme or the assets of the scheme, and(b) it is necessary to make a pause order to protect the interests of the generality of members of the scheme.(3) A pause order under this section is to be treated as if it is made under section 31.(4) But in its application to a pause order under this section, paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 is to be read as if sub-paragraph (3) were omitted.””

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My Lords, government Amendment 57 would allow the Pensions Regulator to issue a pause order to an existing master trust at any point between the scheme submitting an application for authorisation and the decision on the application becoming final, regardless of whether or not a triggering event has occurred in relation to that scheme. Once an existing scheme has submitted an application for authorisation, the Pensions Regulator will have access to a significant amount of new information about the scheme. That information may alert the regulator to members’ interests or assets being at risk in the scheme. Clearly, the regulator will not grant authorisation in such circumstances but it needs to be able to take immediate steps to protect the members.

A decision to refuse authorisation is one which must be taken by the determinations panel. It is right that this is so, but it means that there could be a period of time between the regulator recommending to the determinations panel that the scheme should not be authorised and the panel reaching its decision. During this time, the interests of scheme members need to be protected. The Government’s proposed amendment therefore provides that the Pensions Regulator may make a pause order in relation to a master trust scheme which has submitted an application for authorisation,

“if it is satisfied that—

(a) there is, or is likely to be if a pause order is not made, an immediate risk to the interests of members under the scheme or the assets of the scheme, and

(b) it is necessary to make a pause order to protect the interests of the generality of members of the scheme”.

These conditions mirror those we have just been discussing for making a pause order following a triggering event.

The proposed amendment would introduce an important protection for the members of existing master trust schemes during the period when such schemes are applying for authorisation. In the light of what my noble friend Lord Freud has just said, I too apologise for not making this provision in the Bill as introduced, and I beg to move.

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My Lords, I intervene at least for the record. It is absolutely understandable why the Government seek to extend the pause-order powers to a master trust which has not yet received authorisation if the members’ interests are at risk. I will not repeat the arguments that I made when speaking to Amendments 46 and 50, but they remain valid here. During the period of the pause order which is applied in this circumstance, the issues of what happens to the contributions to which members would otherwise be entitled and how those vulnerable to loss of payments during a pause order are treated remain equally valid under this provision as under the previous one. However, I understand why one would want to extend the pause-order power to an unauthorised scheme.

Amendment 57 agreed.

Amendments 58 to 65

Moved by

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58: Schedule 2, page 38, line 10, leave out from “if” to end of line 19 and insert “at the end there were inserted—

“(7) In the case of a notification under subsection (5) relating to an existing Master Trust scheme, the notification must also include an explanation that the decision is a triggering event for the purposes of sections 20 to 33A, and of the trustees’ duties under those sections.(8) In relation to an application received under section 4 from the trustees of an existing Master Trust scheme, the functions of the Regulator under this section are to be exercised by the Determinations Panel on behalf of the Regulator.(9) In subsection (8), “the Determinations Panel” means the committee established under section 9 of the Pensions Act 2004.””

59: Schedule 2, page 38, line 20, leave out paragraph 10

60: Schedule 2, page 38, line 26, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—

“(a) in subsection (2)—(i) after “2” there were inserted “, 2A”;(ii) after “withdraw” there were inserted “or refuse”;(b) in subsection (5)(c)—(i) after “2” there were inserted “or 2A”;(ii) after “withdraw” there were inserted “or refuse”;(iii) after “withdrawn” there were inserted “or refused”;(c) in the table in subsection (6), after the row for item 2 there were inserted—

“2A.

The Pensions Regulator notifies the trustees of an existing Master Trust scheme of the Regulator’s decision to refuse to grant the scheme authorisation.

The date on which the notification is given.”;

(d) in that table, in the triggering event described in item 3, for “3(3)” there were substituted “3(4)”.”

61: Schedule 2, page 38, line 38, leave out from “if” to end of line 40 and insert “—

(a) in subsection (2)(a)—(i) after “2” there were inserted “or 2A”;(ii) after “withdraw” there were inserted “or refuse”;(b) in subsection (3)(a), after “2” there were inserted “, 2A”.”

62: Schedule 2, page 38, line 41, leave out from “if” to end of line 43 and insert “—

(a) in subsection (2)—(i) after “2” there were inserted “or 2A”;(ii) after “withdraw” there were inserted “or refuse”;(b) in subsection (3), after “2” there were inserted “, 2A”.”

63: Schedule 2, page 38, line 43, at end insert—

“13A_ Section 28 (duty to pursue continuity option) has effect as if, in subsection (3)(a), after “2” there were inserted “, 2A”.”

64: Schedule 2, page 38, line 46, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—

“(a) in subsection (1)—(i) after “2” there were inserted “or 2A”;(ii) after “withdrawn” there were inserted “or refused”;(b) in the table in subsection (3), in the first column (triggering event) for “Item 1 or 2” (in both places) there were substituted “Item 1 or 2 or 2A (decision to refuse to authorise existing Master Trust scheme);(ba) in that table, in the first row for item 1 or 2 or 2A, in the second column (circumstances),—(i) in point 1, after “determination” there were inserted “or decision”;(ii) in point 2, after “withdrawn” there were inserted “or refused”;(bb) in that table, in the second row for item 1 or 2 or 2A, in the second column (circumstances), in point 2, after “withdrawn” there were inserted “or refused”;(bc) in subsection (4), at the end there were inserted—“(c) section 6(2), in a case where that section applies.”;”

65: Schedule 2, page 39, line 12, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—

“(a) in subsection (1)—(i) after “2” there were inserted “or 2A”;(ii) after “withdraw” there were inserted “or refuse”;(b) after subsection (1) there were inserted—“(1A) This section also applies for the purposes of determining the date on which the decision on an application for authorisation of an existing Master Trust scheme becomes final for the purposes of section 3(1)(b).”;(ba) in the table in subsection (3), after the row for item 2 there were inserted—

“Item 2A (notification of decision to refuse to grant authorisation to existing Master Trust scheme)

1. The Pensions Regulator decides to refuse to grant authorisation to an existing Master Trust scheme, and 2. there is no referral of the Regulator’s decision to the Tribunal within the time period allowed for doing so.

The date of the Regulator’s decision.”

(bb) in that table—(i) in the first column, for “Item 1 or 2” (in both places) there were substituted “Item 1 or 2 or 2A”;(ii) in the first row for item 1 or 2 or 2A, in the second column, in point 2, after “withdrawn” there were inserted “or refused”;(iii) in the second row for item 1 or 2 or 2A, in the second column, in point 2, after “withdrawn” there were inserted “or refused”;(bc) in subsection (4), at the end there were inserted—“(c) section 6(2), in a case where that section applies.”;”

Amendments 58 to 65 agreed.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed.

Clause 37 agreed.

Schedule 3: Minor and consequential amendments

Amendments 66 to 77

Moved by

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66: Schedule 3, page 39, line 31, after “of” insert “and Schedule 1 to”

67: Schedule 3, page 39, line 35, after “of” insert “and paragraph 1(6A) of Schedule 1 to”

68: Schedule 3, page 39, line 38, after “of” insert “and Schedule 1 to”

69: Schedule 3, page 39, line 42, after “of” insert “and paragraph 1(6A) of Schedule 1 to”

70: Schedule 3, page 40, line 5, after “of” insert “and Schedule 1 to”

71: Schedule 3, page 40, line 9, after “of” insert “and paragraph 1(6A) of Schedule 1 to”

72: Schedule 3, page 40, line 39, at end insert—

“9A_ In section 93(2) (“regulatory functions” of the Regulator subject to procedure), omit the “and” at the end of paragraph (p) and after that paragraph insert— “(pa) the power to give a direction under section 26(7) of the Pension Schemes Act 2017 (direction to submit implementation strategy), and”.”

73: Schedule 3, page 40, leave out lines 42 to 44

74: Schedule 3, page 41, line 15, after “of” insert “and Schedule 1 to”

75: Schedule 3, page 41, line 19, after “of” insert “and paragraph 1(6A) of Schedule 1 to”

76: Schedule 3, page 41, leave out lines 24 and 25

77: Schedule 3, page 41, line 27, at end insert—

“44BA_ The power to give a direction under section 28(4) (direction to pursue continuity option).”

Amendments 66 to 77 agreed.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.

Clause 38 agreed.

Clause 39: Regulations modifying application of Part 1

Amendment 78 not moved.

Clause 39 agreed.

Debate on whether Clause 40 should stand part of the Bill.

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My Lords, on the face of it, Clause 40 on the power to override contract terms appears sensible to most people. While there may be very good reasons why the Secretary of State may wish to override provisions contained in some pension schemes, I believe that the House would want to be reassured that it was absolutely necessary.

People I have talked to about my concerns over this power all say the same thing: the Government are always overriding contracts. In other words, get used to it. However, I find this quite difficult to come to terms with. As noble Lords know, I come from a local government background, where every contract has to go out to tender, even if it is too small to hit the OJEU rules. It is expected that at least three quotes will be obtained. Once initial quotes are obtained, haggling often begins on the bigger contracts, and a lot of lawyers are involved before the contract is finalised, signed and executed. The contract start date is agreed and eventually the service contracted for is begun.

Quite small parish councils also adhere to the rule that quotes must be obtained before a service contract or purchase can properly be made. It is, after all, council tax payers’ money that is being spent by parish, district, county and other local authorities. Due process has to be followed. If a contract that has been correctly drawn up, tendered for, signed and legally agreed were overridden by the local authority in question, there would be very serious consequences—and even, perhaps, central government intervention.

But here we see that the Government are proposing that contracts that have been legally executed, agreed and signed can be overridden summarily by the Secretary of State. Of course we want to be reassured that the interests of pensioners and their pension pots are protected, and we all want to ensure that all steps are taken to make that happen—but do we really need such a draconian step to facilitate this?

I originally felt that this clause set a very dangerous precedent. But I now understand that Secretaries of State do this all the time, so it quite clearly does not set a precedent as the practice already exists. I will therefore confine my comments to the Minister to asking: does he not feel that this is setting double standards for those who hold elected office and are in positions of authority? One rule exists for governance at local authority level and a completely different set of rules exists for central government. Does the Minister feel that this is likely to generate trust and confidence in central government—or, as I feel, that it will do quite the reverse?

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My Lords, I will comment briefly. I find it difficult to support this proposition. The noble Baroness drew attention to contracting in local authorities, and we understand that—a number of us have been there. But is not the key issue here that the market does not produce the right result? There is weakness on the buyer side, and given the complexity of the product, you need some specific provision to deal with that. We are dealing here of course with a ban on member-borne commission and a cap on early exit charges. The latter in particular is seen to be an inhibitor to people accessing their pensions—indeed, the evidence is clear that it is an inhibitor. If those issues have to be addressed, then we have to use the mechanisms which are at hand. I agree that causing an override of these contract provisions is not the most comfortable mechanism, but it already exists in relation to scheme details, I understand, between the FCA and contract-based schemes, and this extends it to deal with other contractual arrangements relating to schemes.

I am afraid that this proposition does not have our support. We think it is important that we go ahead and get the ban on member-borne commission and the cap on early exit charges in place as soon as possible. On that latter point, I am bound to say we are somewhat disappointed. We are pleased to see the press release from the Minister announcing a cap of, I think, 1%, or 0% for new provisions. But it is will be October next year before that is in place, which again seems a little bit tardy, because the FCA is moving to get the restrictions in place by the end of March.

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My Lords, I will add my voice to commend the merits of my noble friend’s position. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, says, and I understand too the grave situation and the need for protection, but as I have said before—the Minister was sensitive enough to pick it up the last time we discussed this—the provision of an override completely freezes the responsibilities and duties of the trustees. There is a master trust here, which presumably—I cannot see any way round this—has a trust deed which sets out the rules and responsibilities. The provisions in this clause do not just override the contracts but run a coach and horses through the trust deed and the responsibilities of the trustees. It is effectively a vote of no confidence in the trustees, as far as I can interpret how this is to be used, and that is an extremely serious situation.

In the past, trust law has served pension provision well in this country. In addition, there are extremely onerous fit-and-proper-person tests in the earlier clauses of this Bill. The assumption should be that people of good faith and knowledge and experience will not get into these positions at all. We have always been able to rely, in the main, on trustees doing their duty well, but this clause gives them no chance to do that. It sets them aside and is a vote of no confidence in what they do. If I was in that position, I would resign as a trustee—and if the trustees of the master trust resign, then the pause period might be not just three months or six months but a lot longer. My position in supporting careful consideration of this clause before we vote it into law is not just about the important points my noble friend made but about how this will impact on the assumption and service of trustees. If I was invited to become a master trustee in these circumstances, I would look twice at the provisions in this clause before agreeing to do any such thing.

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My Lords, it is quite right that we debate whether this clause should stand part of the Bill, because it is an important one. I hope to persuade noble Lords who have spoken that the powers we are taking are proportionate and indeed necessary in order to deliver the commitments that the Government have made to beneficiaries of pension schemes. As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, we are seeking here to bring occupational pensions into line with the regime that already exists for other pensions.

In a nutshell, the clause amends existing legislation in Schedule 18 to the Pensions Act 2014 to allow regulations to be made that enable a term of a relevant contract to be overridden to the extent that it conflicts with a provision in those regulations. I emphasise that the power would allow a contract to be overridden only where there is a conflict with a provision in regulations. This ensures that relevant contracts are consistent with the regulations, and provides certainty to the parties involved. It may be helpful if I clarify that Clause 40 is distinct from the previous clauses in this Bill that referred to charges; those clauses all relate to the proposed master trust authorisation regime.

We intend to use Clause 40, alongside existing powers in the Pensions Act 2014, to make regulations to cap or ban early exit charges. Early exit charges are any administration charges that are paid by a member for leaving their pension scheme early when they are eligible to access the pension freedoms, which they would not face at their normal retirement date. The Financial Conduct Authority intends to make rules by April 2017 to cap or ban early exit charges in personal and workplace personal pension schemes. Parliament has already approved amendments to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which broadly allows contracts to be overridden.

Together with the existing powers in relation to charges, Clause 40 will enable us to make regulations that introduce similar protection to members of occupational pension schemes. It will also be used to override contractual terms that conflict with the ban on member-borne commission arising under existing contracts in certain occupational pension schemes. By “commission contracts” we mean the contracts between trustees or managers and a person who provides administrative services to the scheme, which permits the person to impose the member-borne commission charge. Existing contracts are those that were entered into before 6 April 2016. This will complete the ban that already exists for commission arrangements entered into on or after 6 April 2016.

The consultations that we undertook on early exit charges and on member-borne commission showed us that these charges generally arise in contracts between trustees or managers of certain occupational pension schemes and those who provide administration services to the scheme. Our existing powers in Schedule 18 to the Pensions Act 2014 enable us to make regulations that override any provision of a relevant scheme where it conflicts with a provision in those regulations. For example, we have used that power in relation to the appointment of service providers in the scheme administration regulations. The reason why we are taking this power is that this does not extend to the contracts under which the charges arise. Clause 40 therefore extends the existing power in Schedule 18 to allow the overriding of a term of a relevant contract that conflicts with a provision of the regulations. The relevant contract is defined as those between a trustee or a manager of a pension scheme and someone providing services to the scheme. The regulations that we intend to make will apply to charges imposed from the date when the regulations come into force, even where they are charged under existing contracts. We expect them to come into force in October 2017.

As noble Lords may be aware, the pensions market is continually evolving and modernising, and this extends to charging practices. It may be necessary to alter the charges requirements to reflect any changes in the pensions market that may disadvantage members. We intend to consult on the draft regulations early next year. In addition, any potential further regulations made under the power in Clause 40 will be subject to public consultation. The requirement to do this is set out in paragraph 8 of Schedule 18 to the Pensions Act 2014.

Such regulations would also be subject to parliamentary scrutiny through the negative resolution procedure. I note that this House’s Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was content with this approach. This allows legislation to be amended reasonably quickly to provide the member protection that may be needed. Together with the consultation, we believe there is effective scrutiny and scope for challenge over the Government’s intended use of these powers.

I would be disappointed if any trustees felt that they had to resign over this. I regard these measures as benefiting scheme members, for whom trustees are acting to defend their interests. In response to the charge that we are interfering with contracts signed in good faith, we consulted on this. We made it clear that it is generally undesirable to interfere with existing contractual rights; it can be justified only in circumstances such as this, where it is necessary to achieve important public policy goals—we have given a commitment to do this—and where the action is proportionate in the public interest. We expect trustees and service providers to work together when renegotiating for amending contracts to reflect implementation of the charge cap, and our consultation and engagement with the pensions industry and other stakeholders on capping or banning early exit charges and spanning existing member-borne commission showed that, by and large, the Government’s intentions were widely welcomed. We continue to engage with industry and stakeholders on those two areas.

I hope that I have convinced the House that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate, especially my noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. I am reassured by the Minister saying that it is undesirable generally to interfere with contractual rights, completely concur that we must have member protection and welcome the public consultation that will take place in the near future. I am also reassured by much else that the Minister said and am content for the clause to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 40 agreed.

Amendment 79

Moved by

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79: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—

“Offence of unsolicited communications to members of pension schemes

(1) It is an offence for a person to make an unsolicited telephone call, or to send unsolicited electronic mail or other communications via an electronic communications network, for the purpose of inducing a member of a pension scheme to use their pension savings in a particular way, or otherwise to make changes to their existing pension scheme arrangements.(2) It is an offence for a person to instigate the making of an unsolicited telephone call, or the sending of unsolicited electronic mail or other communications via an electronic communications network, for the purpose set out in subsection (1).(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine (or both).(4) In this section, “call”, “electronic mail”, “communications” and “electronic communications network” have the meanings given in regulation 2 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.”

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My Lords, I am pleased that the Government have responded to the online petition calling for cold calling by phone or email for investment or pensions to be made illegal. This is definitely a step in the right direction. This positive change of heart was trailed over the weekend of 19 to 20 November and reiterated in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in the other place on Wednesday 23 November. This was welcome, but did not give the level of detail we had been hoping for.

As we are all aware, cold calling on investments and pensions to members of the public often leads to unregulated investments and scams. Banning cold calling would dramatically reduce the number of people falling prey to fraudsters and losing their savings and pensions. There is already sufficient unease among those anxious about their savings and future pensions for this added anxiety to be sufficient to push some vulnerable people over the edge. The scams tend to be presented as unique investment opportunities, such as putting your pension pot into a new hotel in an exotic location or supposedly ethical projects that promise huge returns. It is all too easy for people to be sucked into schemes which will not deliver on the promises made by slick salesmen. They are, after all, looking for absolutely the best deal for their future savings which will ensure them the happy, carefree retirement they have been looking forward to for years.

A recent survey points to the threat of fraud as those near retirement age refuse to seek expert guidance, revealing that almost nine in 10 people miss common warning signs of pension scams. Under the changes announced by the Chancellor, it is assumed that all calls relating to pension investments where a business has no existing relationship with the individual will be forbidden. Similar rules already cover cold calls relating to mortgages. Can the Minister confirm that the pensions issue will be treated in the same way?

It has also been trailed that companies flouting the ban could face fines of up to £500,000 from the Information Commissioner, although the watchdog does not have powers to tackle firms operating outside the UK. Can the Government confirm that they are considering custodial sentences as well as fines for perpetrators of fraudulent cold calling scams? Pensions firms will be given more powers to block suspicious transfers, preventing people’s life savings being transferred without any checks. The rules will also stop small, self-administered schemes being set up using a dormant company such as a sponsoring employer. Research has suggested that scammers could be behind as many as one in 10 pension transfer requests. Do the Government have up-to-date figures for the levels involved?

The Government appear to be acting after the recent petition calling for action was signed by thousands of people, including former Pensions Ministers, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and Steve Webb. Martin Lewis of the website Money Saving Expert, and a number of independent financial advisers, have also requested that pension cold calling be made illegal. The Government’s response is to be welcomed, but a little more detail would have been helpful. Can the Minister say when the consultation trailed in the Autumn Statement will begin? How long will the consultation run for? How quickly after the consultation ends will the results be made public? Will all cold calling targeting pensioners be banned, or only certain schemes?

To ensure that pensioners and the general public retain confidence that the Government are serious about tackling this very serious problem, as much information as possible needs to be in the public domain, not least exactly when the ban on cold calling will commence. It is assumed that this will be once the consultation has finished, but it will be important that transparency exists on how quickly a decision will be made and when the implementation date is due. I look forward to the Minister’s response and beg to move.

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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and I welcome the announcement in the Budget that the Government will consult on options to address this issue of scams and unsolicited contact, including a ban on cold calling, greater powers for firms and schemes to block suspicious transfers and making it harder for scammers to abuse small self-administered schemes. The compelling findings of Citizens Advice align with those of other organisations. For example, the City of London police report that the amount lost to fraud after the freedom reforms were introduced in April 2015 was £13.3 million and rising. That figure does not even include the money moved out of a pension scheme into another investment vehicle, which means the total amount lost since the reforms is likely to be much higher.

The Pensions Advisory Service has handled many calls seeking guidance from members of the public who have been subject to unsolicited approaches, have been scammed and have lost, or are at real risk of losing their savings. There is the self-employed man who transferred all his savings from a reputable insurance company to a property-based pension scheme, and now all his money has disappeared; the public sector worker who transferred £64,000 of savings to another scheme and has not heard anything since; or the ex-employee of a well-known car manufacturer, who transferred 20 years’ worth of DB pension rights—£20,000 was taken in charges, and now he cannot access the rest of his savings. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more desperate cases, involving even bigger amounts.

Cold callers, suspicious transfers and the abuse of small, self-administered schemes all require attention. TPAS experience confirms that scams cover a wide spectrum, from mis-selling, to incompetence, to outright theft and fraud: such as selling a high-risk, unregulated investment to someone who does not understand the implications; encouraging someone to cash in their pot and invest in a high-risk investment within a pensions wrapper; transferring the whole of someone’s pension savings to a small self-administered scheme which is not a regulated financial product, to facilitate unregulated investments; and the use of SIPPs, which are a regulated product, by scammers for unregulated investments. There are many more such examples, and of fraud, through which 70% or more of the pension fund is stolen.

It is really important that the Government map the scam problem, so that the actions they take are fit for purpose. When savers transfer their pension money through a scam vehicle, the prospect of recovering their funds is incredibly remote. The ban on cold calling is absolutely necessary, but not of itself sufficient. A comprehensive set of measures will be needed, including raising customer awareness. Ideally, in the design of the pensions guidance service, savers should be empowered to understand scamming and encouraged to contact the service before deciding to transfer their money. Cold callers may move offshore in response to the Government’s initiative and become difficult to ban. I support making it an offence to send unsolicited electronic material to persons for the purpose of inducing them to use their pension savings in a certain way. People are already getting unsolicited texts, letters and approaches through social media which will be much more difficult to control.

When the pension freedoms were announced, they were received by many with rapturous acclamation as a reform with no downside. However, the evidence now is that unsupported savers with insufficient financial capability are providing a free lunch for the sharks. The future is a growing defined contribution market and many more savers will be at risk. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, is right in her desire to ban unsolicited communications and the Chancellor is right to acknowledge the scale of savers’ vulnerability to scams. I hope the Government’s action is rapid and comprehensive because, looking at the evidence from TPAS, every month of delay means another human tragedy as lifetime savings are lost to scammers.

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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and welcome the Government’s announcement that they will consult on banning cold calling and look at tightening up the procedures for transfers. Both of those are very important—but so is acting swiftly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, mentioned. The longer we delay, the more people are caught. Banning cold calling will not necessarily stop people’s pensions being transferred, but it will send a clear signal to anyone who gets that sort of unsolicited approach that the person approaching them is doing something illegal. That is important, because at the moment people do not know this and we cannot give that message. If we wait until there has been a scam, the money is already lost and we are too late.

The Government must do everything they can to avoid this kind of scamming, which is going on as we speak. I am constantly getting letters and emails from people explaining the way in which they have been scammed. It has come to my attention that an individual who was involved in mortgage scams as long ago as 2002 has set up a new system for scamming pensions. Some parliamentarians seem to have been taken in by this system, which takes people’s pension money and invests the proceeds of a defined benefit scheme, which are completely guaranteed, into one unregulated investment promising exceptional returns. I have seen the materials: it is extremely plausible, as is the person responsible. This was the subject of a BBC exposé but seems to have morphed, with the same people, into a new type of scam. As I say, Members of this House and the other place have apparently been caught up in this and look as if they have been endorsing it.

It is important that we do all we can. I completely support the amendments that the noble Baroness has tabled. At some point we might also consider introducing a ban on selling lists of people’s details. The Bill should say clearly to the public, “Nobody who approaches you out of the blue about your pension, offering you either a free review or some kind of exciting investment opportunity, is bona fide”. We need to be able to give the public that very important message. Currently, we cannot do that. The amendment, if it is agreed, would allow us to do so.

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My Lords, the establishment of an intelligence unit to smell out the operators of scams, track them down and prosecute them before they have a go at robbing people is perhaps almost more important than merely changing the law, which is welcome in itself but does not necessarily solve the problem. The issue is where such an intelligence unit should be located. Should it be part of the Pensions Regulator, the police or the FCA? Too often regulators are seen as doing nothing until the media or “Panorama” have exposed something, and then they address it, whereas the public expect them to spot the bad eggs and deal with them before they have too much opportunity to rob the public.

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My Lords, I will comment briefly on my noble friend’s absolutely valid observations. The concerns expressed across the House on this issue are particularly acute as there has been an interdepartmental, cross-government approach to try to clamp down on these issues. Police initiatives such as Action Fraud and Operation Scorpion have all supposedly joined together to fight this issue. The FCA is involved as well. However, in response to Written Questions that I have tabled, my noble friend has said that so far this year, for example, nobody has even been charged and, over the last few years, nobody has been convicted. So this initiative, while very worthy, is not necessarily catching the public’s attention. If you ask those who have been scammed where people should go if they are not quite sure about something or have had a problem, they simply do not know. So we either spend a lot more money advertising the existing initiatives or, preferably, ban cold calling and introduce further measures—as the Chancellor has already indicated is the intention—to prevent or make more difficult the transfer of pension money to one of these unregulated vehicles. If we do that, the public will be better protected.

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I will be brief as I do not want to echo the fantastic contributions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, my noble friend Lady Drake, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Flight. I can see that if an intelligence unit were part of a wider cross-government approach, it could well pay dividends. However, I fear that we would simply replicate arrangements whereby HMRC constantly chases tax avoiders, alights on some and then there is a change, and then somebody draws a line somewhere else and it is a never-ending process. Nevertheless, it may be worth while pursuing that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, should be congratulated on bringing forward this amendment, the thrust of which we clearly support—although I disagreed with her on her last amendment. As others have said, events have to a certain extent overtaken it because we heard from the Chancellor last Wednesday the welcome news that the Government will shortly publish a consultation on options to tackle pension scams, including cold calling. It proposes giving firms greater powers to block suspicious transfers and making it harder for scammers to abuse “small self-administered schemes”. So this approach appears to take us a little further than the strict terms of the amendment, but if we are to forgo the opportunity to legislate now, at least on cold calling, we need some reassurance from the Minister on how short is “shortly” and what legislative vehicles will give effect to these conclusions.

I do not seek to repeat a number of the awful situations that noble Lords have identified, of people being deprived of their life savings. We have argued before that insufficient groundwork was undertaken by the coalition Government when they introduced these reforms; my noble friend Lady Drake made that point. One omission was clearly to anticipate the opportunities for fraud which these changes attracted. So if the Government are not able to convince us how quickly they can introduce measures to tackle these problems, we will be minded to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, at least as an interim measure.

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This amendment seeks to make it a criminal offence to make a cold call or send other unsolicited electronic mail or communications for the purpose of scamming a pension scheme member of their pension savings or to make changes to their existing arrangements; for example, inducing them to participate in high-risk investments. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, focuses on a substantial issue. The figures are enormous. According to the ONS—the Office for National Statistics—eight scam calls happen every second in the UK, or over 250 million a year. Almost 11 million pensioners are targeted annually by cold callers, and savers have reported losses of nearly £19 million to pensions scams between April 2015 and March 2016. The amendment also stipulates that a person convicted of such an offence is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or a fine, or both, so it aims to deter scammers from such activity.

I state firmly that this is a priority for the Government, and we are determined to tackle the scourge of fraudulent nuisance calls. We want to send a strong message to consumers that they should not respond to such approaches. However, as my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lord Flight and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, pointed out, that is not enough—banning cold calling alone will not stem the flow of transfers in scam vehicles or the establishment of those vehicles in the first place. Scammers who make cold calls are criminals and will continue to cold call and incite people to part with their savings. It probably does not make a huge amount of difference to the savers whether the criminals are based in this country or elsewhere in the world where we find it difficult to get hold of them.

The Government have explored this issue in detail, which is why in the Autumn Statement last week we announced that we will consult on how best to ban pensions cold calling. That needs to be supported by a wider package of proposed measures intended to tackle pension scams themselves. With regard to timing, on which I have been pushed by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, the plan is to publish a consultation on these measures before Christmas and to have the next steps ready for the 2017 Budget—I think it is still called a Budget—which will be in the spring. Comments can then be made on proposals to: ban cold calling in relation to pensions investments, and tackling inducements to do that; placing restrictions on certain types of transfer, which seeks to limit the flow of funds into scams; and making it harder for scammers to set up and run fraudulent small self-administered schemes, which tackles the potential vehicles for scams. We intend to provide more detail on these proposals in the consultation document.

To tackle the scams effectively, it is clearly vital to get this right and to do so in a way that does not impact on legitimate businesses. The consultation will seek to understand what impact these proposals would have on legitimate firms and member transfer activity, and what, if any, legislative solutions might be available and proportionate to disrupt the scams. In answer to the noble Baroness’s question, we will also be consulting on appropriate custodial sentences, although imposing them on people in different parts of the world is harder to achieve.

As I said, we need to ensure that we get this right, and the consultation, alongside existing engagement with experts from the pensions industry and consumer groups, will help inform our thinking. With that in mind, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment, with which we are entirely in sympathy.

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I thank the noble Lord for his very positive comments and I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I welcome the fact that the Government feel that this is an enormous problem that must have top priority. I also welcome the fact that the consultation will start before Christmas. However, I am slightly nervous about that because it is a well-known ploy to start consultations just before Christmas, when people have their minds on things other than consultations, and to finish them in the first or second week of January. Therefore, I would be grateful if the noble Lord could say that there will be a reasonable period over which the consultation will run.

I look forward to hearing in the 2017 Budget the steps that will be taken, and I hope that implementation will follow soon after, because I agree completely with previous speakers that the quicker this matter is sorted, the better. I also welcome that the Government are considering custodial sentences. I agree with and welcome everything that the Minister has said, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 79 withdrawn.

Amendment 80

Moved by

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80: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—

“Automatic transfer of pension benefits, etc

(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring the trustees or managers of a work-based pension scheme (“the transferring scheme”) to transfer accrued rights to benefits under the scheme in respect of a relevant member to another work-based pension scheme (“the receiving scheme”) in circumstances and subject to conditions which may be prescribed.(2) Prescribed circumstances for the purposes of subsection (1) may include that—(a) the relevant member has been an active member of the transferring scheme and has accrued rights to benefits under that scheme;(b) the relevant member has ceased to be an active member of the transferring scheme; (c) immediately before the relevant member ceased to be an active member of the transferring scheme the member was a worker of an employer (A) who paid contributions in respect of the member to the transferring scheme;(d) the whole of the sums or assets representing accrued rights of the relevant member under the transferring scheme are invested in that scheme’s default fund;(e) the relevant member is an active member of the receiving scheme and is a worker of A;(f) A pays contributions to the receiving scheme in respect of the relevant member;(g) the whole of the sums or assets representing accrued rights of the relevant member under the receiving scheme are invested in that scheme’s default fund;(h) the relevant member has no accrued rights to benefits under the transferring scheme or the receiving scheme which are not money purchase benefits.(3) Prescribed conditions for the purposes of subsection (1) may include that the trustees or managers of the receiving scheme have given the trustees or managers of the transferring scheme a transfer notice which meets prescribed requirements.(4) Regulations may set out further requirements in relation to a transfer under this section, including provisions—(a) requiring the trustees or managers of the transferring scheme to take such steps as are necessary to comply with the obligation to transfer accrued benefits in respect of a relevant member;(b) discharging the trustees or managers of the transferring scheme following the transfer pursuant to this section from any obligation to provide benefits to or in respect of the relevant member;(c) requiring that the relevant member has either consented in accordance with prescribed requirements or has been given the opportunity to opt out of the transfer and has not done so within a prescribed period;(d) requiring specified information about the transfer to be given to the relevant member;(e) setting out how the cash equivalent of default fund benefits in respect of a relevant member is to be calculated and verified;(f) requiring the trustees or managers of the receiving scheme to use the cash equivalent transferred pursuant to this section to provide rights under the scheme for or in respect of the relevant member;(g) concerning the disclosure of information;(h) concerning ensuring compliance with any requirements of this section or the regulations;(i) requiring records of prescribed information in relation to the transfer to be kept and, on request, disclosed to the Pensions Regulator;(j) imposing or conferring further duties or discretions on the trustees or managers of a transferring scheme or a receiving scheme, on employer A or on any other prescribed person in relation to a transfer pursuant to this section;(k) overriding provisions of a transferring scheme or a receiving scheme to the extent necessary to comply with any obligation under this section.(5) In this section—“active member” has the same meaning as in the Pensions Act 1995 (see section 124(1) of that Act);“default arrangement” has the same meaning as in the Occupational Pension Schemes (Charges and Governance) Regulations 2015 (see regulation 3 of those Regulations); “money purchase benefits” has the same meaning as in the Pension Schemes Act 1993 (see section 181(1) of that Act);“relevant member” means a person whose accrued rights to benefits under a work-based pension scheme may be transferred pursuant to this section;“work-based pension scheme” has the same meaning as in the Pensions Act 2014 (see paragraph 15 of Schedule 17 to that Act);“worker” has the same meaning as in the Pensions Act 2008 (see section 88 of that Act).(6) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.”

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My Lords, Amendment 80 proposes a new clause that would enable the trustees of master trusts, or the sponsors or sometimes the managers of group personal pension schemes, to require the transfer of accumulated assets from default funds when moving from one investment manager to another.

The issue here is that at present the agreement of the individual members of the scheme is required, but often deferred members, although advised of the new arrangements, do not have the time to be bothered with them. As a result, small bits of money are left in historic default funds where no one really keeps a watchful eye on them.

It is in the interests of members in default funds to move to the default fund of the new manager when there is a change of manager, so that their funds are kept under surveillance. In addition, quite often the reason for moving to a new investment manager is that the performance of the previous investment manager has been unsatisfactory, so there is at least the possibility that shifting to a new scheme default fund will provide an improvement in performance.

I raised this issue at Second Reading and am interested to know what the Government’s attitude towards it is. I am aware of the debates of the past on this subject but, from some direct observation, I suggest that the point is particularly relevant for investments in default funds. Where individuals have chosen their own sub-funds—for example, in a group personal pension scheme or where they are offered under a master trust—they are naturally going to be interested in looking after their own investments. Therefore, in a sense, it is not necessary. But where people have chosen a default fund, I think it makes more sense, both administratively and in terms of the potential returns achieved, if the default funds follow the pension pot.

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Might I suggest that my noble friend’s amendment is particularly relevant where the master trust has had a triggering event? At the moment, the rules for a bulk transfer of defined contribution benefits do not allow trustees easily to transfer the members’ rights across to another scheme. In many cases it may require member consent or complex calculations that are based on defined benefit schemes and not defined contribution schemes. Therefore, I certainly echo the sentiments expressed by my noble friend about the importance of being able easily to transfer accrued rights across from one scheme to another without member consent. As he rightly said, very often members become a little disengaged from their pension pots and may not themselves want to engage in the idea of transferring across. Somebody else being able to do it on their behalf would make sense.

It may also be prudent to consider the notion of bulk transfers, which I did raise on the first day of Committee, even in the circumstances that there has not been a triggering event. That might more easily facilitate the orderly transfer across of members’ accrued benefits under a scheme in which it is considered likely or inevitable that a triggering event will occur. The Pensions Regulator may then be able to be proactive rather than reactive in being able to protect members’ rights and transfer them across without consent in certain circumstances. I would be grateful to hear my noble friend the Minister’s thoughts on that issue.

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My Lords, as others have referred to, central to the resolution regime for a failing master trust is the transfer of the members and their benefits to another approved master trust. However, for this to be achieved efficiently and promptly, and indeed legally, it would be necessary to undertake a bulk transfer of members and their assets. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has detailed, the current rules on bulk transfers would not be fit for purpose for a failing master trust, with its range of different employers and the potential to provide a wide range of benefits and investments to members, who could be either accumulating or accessing their savings. The amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, is an attempt to address that problem and provides a welcome opportunity to address the issues, because they are concerns that are clearly shared by various Members of this House.

The provisions in the Bill and the regulations will need to enable those bulk transfers to take place efficiently and legally. The regulations will need to set out a clear set of rules. Amendment 80 gives the Secretary of State considerable overarching and overriding powers to require the trustees of a failing master trust to transfer accrued benefits. They are extensive powers, but I suspect of an order probably needed to make the transfer regime work in the event of a master trust’s failure.

These powers will give the Secretary of State and the regulator the ability to direct where, potentially, many millions of pounds of members’ money is transferred to. Had we had draft regulations before us, we might have had many questions. I refer in particular to the House having discussed at length the problems that can occur if the administrative records of the master trust are incomplete or in disarray. Even something simple like the lack of a current address for a member can cause delay if a notification is required, I promise. I have been there and bought the T-shirt. It is a nightmare.

Is it the Government’s intention that bulk transfers will be able to take place during a triggering event before all past records are clarified? Post-transfer to the receiving scheme, who will bear responsibility for any administrative errors that existed at the point of transfer? Will there be circumstances where the regulations under this Bill will override other pension regulations in order to effect that bulk transfer? I have one small example. Under auto-enrolment, when members are in self-select funds and are transferred without their written consent, they are from then on treated as having been put into a default fund and the charge cap of 0.75% is applied. I do not want to go into too much detail, but that is to illustrate the question of whether there will be circumstances where the regulations under the Bill will override other pension-related regulations. I commend the amendment because it seeks to address an issue that all of us are aware of if the resolution regime will be based on directing the trustees of failing schemes to transfer their members’ benefits to other master trusts.

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My Lords, I hope that I do not have the wrong end of the stick with this. As I see it, my noble friend’s amendment is effectively about individuals being able to move and consolidate their pots, whereas the regime that we have for master trusts is for bulk transfers.

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To clarify, my amendment is about bulk transfer where the trustees deem it desirable to move from, say, one fund manager to another.

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Does my noble friend mean scheme manager or fund manager?

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Essentially, fund manager, but they may, in the case of a master trust, be the same.

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We have spent a lot of time talking about the continuity options 1 and 2 for trustees in a scheme in difficulty transferring in bulk, and I am sure we will return to those areas on Report. When I read the amendment, I took it to refer to a transfer where a member wants to consolidate his pension fund, which is something that we looked at in the 2014 Bill. I am at something of a loss as to how much I can add to what we discussed earlier, given my misreading of the amendment, which was talking about members wanting to consolidate their pots.

In certain circumstances a scheme may undertake a bulk transfer of members’ accrued pension rights without their consent. This could be, for example, because an employer has two or more pension schemes and wants to consolidate them. The provisions in the Bill provide the opportunity to require master trusts to transfer those members. The existing provisions in the Bill will permit a transfer on a trigger event, as my noble friend was asking.

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Perhaps I may follow up that comment. Yes, indeed, there will be transfers on a triggering event, but I seek some reassurance that proper provision will be made for bulk transfers that do not depend on defined benefit rules which make those bulk transfers much more costly and time-consuming and do not automatically ensure that they can occur in a timely way. Does the Minister also consider that there could be circumstances where a bulk transfer could happen without a triggering event? We are trying to consolidate schemes, but we know that there are schemes already in existence that will need to consolidate and either will not or will not wish to meet the authorisation criteria. If there were the possibility of doing so, that would be helpful. Finally, going back to a point that I raised on our previous day in Committee, it is true that the Bill will place what is potentially a legal duty on trustees to effect a transfer, so there will be an obligation for that transfer to happen. But I am not clear that we are any the wiser as to who would be able to fund the transfer if the records of the scheme are in disarray and there are no funds to pay for advice or administration services to enable the transfer to be made. What provisions can we rely on to ensure that the transfer takes place, and of course I am referring again to some kind of potential back-stop insurance as required in case the costs cannot be met anywhere else.

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We are currently considering whether there may be some scope to simplify the current arrangements which will make life easier for defined contribution schemes when making bulk transfers, but we must do that at a time when we do not compromise member protection. As my noble friend will be well aware, there are certain protections in place such as the requirement for an actuary to certify that the members’ rights in the receiving scheme are broadly no less favourable than those which are being transferred. When a transfer is made under the mechanisms of this Bill, after a triggering event when the regulator is looking at it, one of the main points is to make sure that there is adequate capital to fund such an event. I will have to come back to my noble friend on how that will work when a bulk transfer is made and the regulator is not involved in the process. What one would normally expect to see is a negotiation with the receiving scheme manager to ensure that it is able to fund the transfer because of the benefits of scale through putting together two systems. I imagine that when the regulator is not involved in the process, that is where the money will come from. I will double-check that and come back to my noble friends, but that is how I foresee it happening.

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I thank the Minister. I will paint a particular picture. Some 95% of group personal pension schemes will typically be in default funds. Where the sponsor and, if it is a master trust, the trustees observe that the fund management performance has been poor, they will often conclude that they want to change. They have an ability to write to all members to advise of this and to advise them to move, but they have no power to require a bulk transfer. In these situations, particularly if there are any deferred members, little bits of money get left behind. The individual almost forgets they have them. They get little or no reporting and they do not get the best out of their pension savings. I observe from within the industry that, particularly for default funds, there is a powerful argument for requiring the new fund manager to require and activate a bulk transfer.

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Now we are moving more closely into what I thought the amendment was about, which is the pot following the member. As my noble friend will know, that mirrors the spirit of Schedule 17 to the Pensions Act 2014. We have not commenced that schedule.

We are looking at another approach, which is the launch of a pensions dashboard. We want to see whether that will work. This would allow people to see their retirement savings from across the industry in one place, which they could consolidate where they felt it was in their interests. The Government will support industry in designing and delivering a pensions dashboard by 2019, with a prototype being developed by March 2017. Clearly, when we know how it works, it will set the context for looking at how best to worry about the problems of being left either in funds that an individual thought were not performing, or wanting to consolidate. It is not necessarily the case that it is always advantageous to consolidate all the different pots, given the way legislation works—in other words, where the member has valuable benefits or lower scheme charges in one or other of those pots.

There is a lot of development here and a lot of change going on. The pensions industry is absorbing a large number of reforms. The Government’s approach is to see how the industry’s plan to have the dashboard will allow much greater flexibility for individuals.

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On rereading the amendment, its first subsection, which states:

“The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring the trustees … to transfer”,

is quite open-ended, so people would choose how to interpret it. The point I want to leave with the Minister is that in the particular instance of failing master trusts—I accept that in other circumstances there is a problem with the bulk transfer terms—the resolution regime is to transfer members and their benefits to another master trust. Existing bulk transfer regulations and legal requirements are not fit for purpose. As they stand, they will not permit the Government to achieve the objective of their resolution regime under the Bill. Although I wish the Government well in having an efficient resolution regime, it is important to understand their policy and thinking on how they will amend the bulk transfer regulations and processes to allow these bulk transfers in a failing trust situation to be undertaken both efficiently and legally. Both aspects need clarification. Certainly, if I may presume, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and I are particularly concerned about the Government’s proposals for reviewing the bulk transfer arrangements in a failed master trust situation.

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I shall try to wind this up. I accept the implied—or not so implied—concern of noble Lords that making bulk transfers is more difficult than it should be when there is no regulator process. We are now looking at whether we can simplify those arrangements. I am not in a position to say that there is going to be a consultation, or any major process, but we are looking at that. It is not straightforward, as all noble Peers will accept.

I think I have the answer: master trust bulk transfer provisions will trump existing provisions on voluntary transfers. I hope that is a useful clarification for the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. With that explanation, I urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

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My Lords, my objective was to raise the issue of bulk transfers and to understand what government policy is both for master trusts and for other forms of retail pensions. I am particularly pleased to hear that for master trusts, bulk transfers trump voluntary requirements. It is a wider territory than just master trusts, but I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 80 withdrawn.

Amendment 81

Moved by

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81: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—

“Calculation of pension scheme liabilities

(1) The Companies Act 2006 is amended as follows.(2) After section 393 (accounts to give a true and fair view) insert—“393A Calculation of pension scheme liabilities(1) Regulations may provide that directors, when preparing accounts as required by this Part or deciding for the purposes of this Part whether they are satisfied that accounts give a true and fair view of the assets, liabilities, financial position and profit and loss, may have regard to an alternative method of valuing defined benefit pension liabilities and (except where contrary to international accounting requirements) may disregard any method of valuing such liabilities required by accounting standards.(2) The Secretary of State must make regulations which set out one or more alternative methods of valuing defined benefit pension liabilities for the purposes of this section.(3) Regulations made under this section may—(a) provide for the value of defined benefit pension liabilities to be calculated using a discount rate determined otherwise than by reference to the market yield on government or corporate bonds;(b) provide for the calculation of the value of defined benefit pension liabilities to be certified out by an actuary appointed by the directors;(c) make similar provision in relation to limited liability partnerships and any other undertakings subject to the requirements of this Part;(d) override any provisions which would otherwise require defined benefit pension liabilities to be calculated in accordance with accounting standards;(e) provide for an audit required pursuant to this Act to be carried out with regard to the provisions of this section.(4) In this section—“defined benefit pension liabilities” means liabilities under an occupational pension scheme in relation to future payment of benefits which are not money purchase benefits;“international accounting requirements” has the meaning prescribed;“accounting standards” means international accounting standards and any accounting standards issued by the Financial Reporting Council of the United Kingdom or its predecessors or successors;“money purchase benefits” has the same meaning as in the Pension Schemes Act 1993 (see section 181 of that Act);“occupational pension scheme” has the same meaning as in the Pension Schemes Act 1993 (see section 1(1) of that Act).(5) Regulations under this section must be made before the end of the period of one year from the date on which this section comes into force and must be reviewed from time to time.(6) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.””

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My Lords, the proposed new clause that Amendment 81 would insert raises the other issue I raised at Second Reading, which relates to defined benefit schemes. I raise it because it is of growing economic importance for us to know the extent of real pension fund deficits in this country. Calculated under FRS 17, which now seems to be known as FRS 102, or even IAS 19, this is reputed to be as much as £500 billion. Particularly for large companies, the amount of contributions—top-ups—they are having to make is delaying or postponing investment decisions and, indeed, sometimes affecting their creditworthiness.

When FRS 17 was introduced is was a justified, relatively cautious approach to calculating pension fund deficits. That was before QE, which reduced gilt yields so dramatically, but we have now moved into an age in which it is an inappropriate way to base pension fund deficits. Noble Lords will be aware that the pension fund has its current pot of assets; it is looking at the pension fund liabilities moving forward and discounting those to a present value at the FRS 17 rate.

In my experience, the formula nowadays frequently delivers a rate of interest which is about half the return that the pension schemes have been earning over the past 10 years. That is a more sensible way of getting at an appropriate rate at which to discount the liabilities. In essence, it is intended to suggest that pension fund actuaries should be given the job of determining the appropriate rate at which to discount pension liabilities, having regard both to historic returns and the nature of the investment portfolio.

There is a caveat in the proposed new clause, which says,

“except where contrary to international accounting requirements”.

As I understand it, the US Congress was able to override the accounting requirements but I think we may be tied by EU accounting directive 2013/34/EU. Although we may be freed of this when Brexit comes into effect, it may limit our flexibility here. But at the very least, I can see no reason why we should not require that pension fund liabilities are also shown, calculated at an appropriate rate recommended by pension fund actuaries, so that individuals can understand the likely real level of deficit, calculated on a realistic basis.

As I say, this issue is of growing economic importance. It seems quite extraordinary that huge pension fund deficits continue to be reported and we are aware that the amounts are probably hugely overstated, but we are stuck with being legally obliged to show these deficits when directors are producing companies’ accounts. If we are constrained by EU agreement, we should require at the very least that deficits calculated at an appropriate rate of interest are also shown. I beg to move.

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My Lords, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, seeks a way of tackling the concern about the calculation of DB pension liabilities and deficits, particularly their volatility and the impact a large deficit can have on a company’s balance sheet.

By way of illustration, the LCP annual survey of FTSE 100 company schemes estimated deficits at 31 July 2016 of £46 billion, compared with £25 billion a year earlier and an estimated surplus in February 2016—big swings, clearly. Of course, a significant factor in these calculations is bond yields, which reduced sharply following the EU referendum, pushing up liabilities, although it is suggested that some of this reduction has been negated by interest-rate hedging and that foreign currency-denominated assets have benefited from some decline in sterling.

The reality is that a number of factors feature in how DB schemes should be accounted for: life expectancy, inflation and discount rates, as well as contribution levels and benefits. In seeking to understand the sensitivity of this, for FTSE 100 companies, as reflected on the basis of International Accounting Standard 19, the aggregate pension deficit of £46 billion in July 2016 comprised liabilities of £628 billion and assets of some £582 billion. These are very large aggregates.

The noble Lord’s amendment concentrates on the calculation of defined benefit pension liabilities and would enable directors to use an alternative method if,

“they are satisfied that accounts give a true and fair view”.

It provides that the Secretary of State must,

“set out one or more alternative methods”,

for these purposes—I understand that this is based on actuarial advice—and that an alternative method of valuing DB liabilities must not be,

“contrary to international accounting requirements”.

I am grateful to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales for the information it provided in helping me to frame this contribution. At present, listed companies have to adopt international accounting standards. In other cases, companies can choose to use IFRS or FRS 102, which replaced FRS 17. However, it is understood that so far as pension scheme liabilities are concerned, the two standards are broadly consistent. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, would not appear to apply to listed companies which are bound by international accounting standards—but for how long? He raised that interesting question. FRS 102 sets out how defined benefit plan liabilities are to be measured and recognised. It requires a defined benefit obligation to be calculated on a discounted present-value basis, using a rate of discount by reference to market yields at the reporting date on high-quality corporate bonds. This has to be recognised in full on the balance sheets.

We have sympathy with the amendment to the extent that it seeks to dampen the volatility of the measurement of liabilities for accounting purposes, but not if it is seen as a route to lessen employer contributions to DB schemes. We recognise that the current accounting treatment which generates this volatility is not ideal, although it is not helped by government policies such as quantitative easing. However, we have concerns about this approach. The Financial Reporting Council is responsible for setting UK accounting standards, not the Secretary of State.

A process in which generally applied standards are overridden on particular issues would set a precedent that could lead to a confusing regime and not help transparency and confidence in financial reporting. It begs the question of what alternative method of valuing DB liabilities would enable directors to be satisfied that the accounts give a true and fair view. What would this mean for trustee scheme valuations? The era of very low interest rates has brought the matter into sharp focus. In winding up our Second Reading, I think the Minister said that the Government had this issue in their sights and would explore it in the upcoming winter Green Paper. We look forward to that but, in the interim, we seek an update on where the thinking is going.

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I thank my noble friend Lord Flight for this amendment, which opens up a fascinating area. Amendment 81 would require the Secretary of State to make regulations which would have the effect of allowing companies to disregard any method of valuing defined benefit pension liabilities required by accounting standards. I recognise and understand the concerns that have been expressed in this debate and during Second Reading about the measurement of the liabilities under accounting standards, particularly when we are in what one would hope is an unusual period of interest rates being low not for reasons of the economy but because of quantitative easing.

Following its recent public consultation on its future agenda, the International Accounting Standards Board concluded that,

“there was no evidence of problems that were sufficiently widespread and significant to require a comprehensive review of IAS 19”.

However, I assure my noble friend that this is not the end of the matter. The UK’s Financial Reporting Council is in the early stages of considering the impacts of the current approach and will be examining the case for an alternative approach. I believe that this is the most appropriate way forward compared with the approach proposed by this amendment. The independence of the standard-setting approach is widely regarded as one of its strengths. I do not think it would be right for government to intervene directly—here I echo the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. It should not effectively set aside the accounting standards framework that has been developed to deal with these complex matters. If the Financial Reporting Council finds objective evidence or broad stakeholder demand for change, any proposals would need to take fully into account the risks they may pose to members’ benefits and would need to be tested through public consultation.

My noble friend talked about the experience in the US. When he did so at Second Reading, he got me to do some work—I always resent that—to look at that. In the US, schemes may move to calculate their funding based on yields from high-quality bonds averaged over the past 25 years. That approach would effectively discount rates by 1% and lead to employers paying significantly less into their pension schemes. What we must not allow to happen—again I echo the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and it is not often that that happens—is a change that releases pressure on employers, only to find that that leads to their pension scheme being less well funded and members losing out.

I do not think there is a quick and easy solution here. Nobody who looks into this issue can be in any doubt that this is an extremely complex and technical area. To come up with an alternative accounting methodology would require a number of substantial steps. Those would include: undertaking a detailed analysis of the current commercial, financial and broader economic impacts of the current methodology to determine whether there is a need for that change; developing alternative approaches, which would also have to model transition impacts between the two regimes; seeking views from the market through public consultation on identifying the costs and benefits and any adverse impacts; and, finally, developing the detailed standard itself, which again would require a further round of public consultation.

We are planning to publish a Green Paper over the winter, and I can reassure noble Lords that it will explore the issue of how liabilities are measured and reported in the round. We want to ensure that measures of liabilities and deficits are properly understood and are being used and interpreted appropriately. We will explore and seek views on whether the measures used could, in some cases, be driving investment behaviour that is not in the best interests of members or employers, and we will look at what the alternatives might be. I hope I have reassured my noble friend that his concerns are being addressed and that he will withdraw his amendment.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I think that if the Government talked to everyone in the pension fund industry and to many of the large companies in this country, they would all tell a similar story: that the present discounting rate hugely exaggerates the reported scale of deficits. It is an important issue and I wish the Green Paper good luck because, clearly, it is most sensibly dealt with by agreement with the accounting profession. It is not so much about reducing company contributions—there is certainly no scope for that—but it is quite economically damaging if, as now, contributions are required which are way beyond those which are necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 81 withdrawn.

Amendment 81A

Moved by

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81A: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—

“Secondary Annuity Market for pensions savings

The Treasury must, within six months of the day on which this Act comes into force, take steps to—(a) change the tax treatment in relation to holders of pension scheme annuities wishing to realise the value of their annuities, including by removing the unauthorised payment tax charge; and(b) put in place arrangements to enable individuals to assign their pension scheme annuity to a third party in return for a lump sum to be taken directly, or transferred to an alternative retirement income product; and(c) work with the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure appropriate consumer protection is in place for pension scheme annuity holders as they consider their pensions savings options.”

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My Lords, I am conscious that people are waiting for the Urgent Question on Aleppo. However, I feel that this is a really important issue. I am concerned, as are others, that the Government appear to be backtracking on their manifesto promises on the secondary annuity market. As part of the pensions freedoms, the Government planned a secondary annuities market, where original purchasers who had a poor or inferior-quality product would be able to sell it and buy a better one with the cash. This move and this promise were welcome. The Conservative Party manifesto of 2015, on pages 65 and 67, promised:

“We will … give you the freedom to invest and spend your pension however you like … we will allow pensioners to access their pension savings and decide whether or not to take out an annuity, so they can make their own decisions about their money”.

The message was clear going into the election: the Conservatives would help those who had poor annuities and allow them to get a better deal for their money.

However, as has been widely publicised, not least in the Daily Mail on 16 November, there has been heavy lobbying against this move by the pensions industry, which has claimed it would be hard to set up a secondary market and difficult in terms of consumer protection. This lobbying seems to have come to a head at Gleneagles, when Government Ministers came under heavy fire from insurance company chief executives and gave way under the pressure. The resultant government change of mind has left many people with poor annuities that they now cannot get rid of.

It is all very well for the Government to succumb to the pressures of the insurance industry; I would prefer them to succumb to the pressures of the pensioners who are suffering as a result. The Daily Mail highlighted the cases of various pensioners. One 70 year-old veteran who would love to own a second-hand car said:

“Waiting at the bus stop for the hourly service to Nottingham city centre can be a miserable affair—particularly as the winter days draw in”.

He,

“must make the lengthy journey from his sheltered housing in the outskirts of the city every time he needs to go to the supermarket or visit friends”.

For him,

“and millions of pensioners like him, the Government’s promise to let him sell his paltry retirement income for a lump sum offered a vital lifeline. The Army veteran was preparing to exchange his £11-a-week … annuity for a few thousand pounds—enough to buy a small runaround to get to town and back”.

But the Government’s “dramatic U-turn” scrapped his plans. It means he will have to carry on taking the bus. He said:

“‘I was so disappointed when I heard the news … These insurance companies are making so much money from us and their bosses are earning millions. The money from my pension would be a small amount to them, but it would make all the difference to me’. Until the rules were changed in 2014, more than 400,000 savers a year bought annuities when they retired”.

Consumer protection can be problematic but it is not rocket science. We are extremely disappointed the Government have reneged on their promise and left people in the lurch. This should be rectified in this pensions Bill and is a big omission.

The original proposal turned pensions savings into income: for example, each £10,000 might give you £500 a year. Plans for a so-called secondary annuities market would have enabled savers to sell these deals. The idea was that insurers would compete to offer lump sums if a pensioner gave up the guaranteed monthly payouts. I have received case studies and lobbying on this issue, some couched in such strong words that I am unable to repeat them in this Chamber, but the Government must be under no illusion that feelings are running extremely high on this issue.

The decision to kill off the secondary annuity market even caught pensions companies off guard. Legal & General, for instance, had invested a considerable amount of resources in a new website, auctionmyannuity.com, so that it could act as a broker when the market launched in April. Obviously it thought the idea was viable and believed there were companies interested in doing it that would have been ready by April.

Legal & General’s website would have offered identity checks, risk warnings and advice on how to avoid falling victim to fraud. The former Pensions Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said:

“The Government was being furiously lobbied by the industry in the weeks before they cancelled the market. Protections were in place. Most of the work was already done. Legislation had been laid. If the Government felt that consumers were still not protected enough, it could have delayed the launch, not abandoned it altogether”.

However, despite all the groundwork that had taken place, the Government decided to cave in to the lobbying.

I will leave noble Lords with the following case. A pensioner, aged 68,

“receives a £160-a-month annuity from a £52,000 pension pot with Prudential. It took the former roadside equipment installer from High Wycombe, Bucks, 30 years to save the money. He would have never taken the deal three years ago had he realised the Government was preparing to allow savers to take their pensions as cash”.

He now fears that his wife, who is 67,

“a local authority worker, will not get a penny, should he pass away suddenly. The small print of the annuity contract states that payments are only guaranteed for ten years after the date”,

in 2014 when he signed up.

“Should he die after this date, the remaining cash will go straight into his insurer’s pockets”.

He says:

“I think it’s diabolical that the Government has gone back on its word … I wouldn’t blow that money, but I could do something with it, perhaps keep it invested, instead of an insurer taking the lot”.

This is a serious issue and I hope the Minister is minded to give at least some comfort to all those affected in their old age. The Government must do something about secondary annuities for all those suffering under the current system. I beg to move.

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My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on her amendment. I was proud that the Government finally recognised the need to allow people to undo unwanted or unsuitable annuities when that decision was announced and indeed put in the manifesto, which the noble Baroness quoted.

Government rules effectively forced people to buy these products even though they did not want or need them. They had no protection when they were buying but the plans were in place to ensure that they would have protection if they considered reselling them. There was to be mandatory Pension Wise guidance and advice depending on the value of the annuity, and indeed legislation had already been passed to make that happen. As the noble Baroness mentioned, companies have already spent quite significant sums in preparation for this market, which consumers want and in some cases need, as the case studies showed.

In the annuity market it is normal for there to be only a small number of providers, which has never stopped that market operating in the past. For defined benefit pension schemes and bulk annuities, for example, for many years there were only ever two companies that would offer quotes. That should not be a reason to stop people being able to sell their annuity. Indeed, many people with secure defined benefit pensions, and the additional voluntary contributions that they were saving on top of that, were often forced to buy an annuity that they clearly did not need. Very often, because the regulatory system drove people to shop around for the best rate, they did not know that that would not actually necessarily be the right product. If you shopped around for the best rate and bought the single-life annuity, there was no protection for your spouse. In some cases, individuals have bought a product that they do not need and is not suitable for their family circumstances. This measure would have given them an opportunity to undo that. The law currently allows people who have less than £10,000 a year in an annuity to undo it, but if we do not proceed with the plans that were previously in place, they will potentially be doing so without any consumer protection. The plans had been to ensure that there was consumer protection before this happened.

It is not up to the Government or the pensions industry to decide what is best for somebody’s money; they are the ones who know that. If they have bought something that is not suitable, it is right that the Government give them an opportunity to undo that deal. If you buy a brand-new car and it is the wrong car for you, you have the opportunity to sell it in the second-hand market—yes, you have to take a discount; yes, it may be a significant discount; but that is your choice. When the Government have enshrined freedom and choice in the pension system, it is appropriate for us to continue to enable people to access their savings, which they need and to which they were promised access. If it requires a delay to get the consumer protection in place, so be it. That is a shame, but it is at least a rationale for asking people to wait longer. To take away the opportunity altogether seems unfair, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said. She is receiving representations; I am hearing from large numbers of ordinary people across the country how much it would mean to them to have the opportunity to undo an annuity that they no longer want, or perhaps never even wanted or needed.

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My Lords, we were a little surprised—perhaps we should not have been—to see this amendment seeking the establishment of a secondary annuity market, given the Statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, just a month ago. I say first to the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Bakewell, that the fact that people may have ended up with an annuity which is not the greatest in the world does not mean that they should compound that problem by doing a bad deal in the secondary annuity market. That is the nub of this issue. You simply cannot equate a transaction on a second-hand car with the sale of an annuity. It is fairly clear what is the market price for a second-hand car; there is a vibrant market out there, as I understand. It is quite different with annuities. That is at the heart of this issue.

An amendment seeking to establish a secondary annuity market was rejected by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and we supported him in that. In that Statement, he explained that the Government had consulted extensively with the industry and consumer groups to explore whether conditions for a secondary market in annuities could be established. The conclusion was that, without compromising consumer protection, there were likely to be insufficient purchasers to create a competitive market and that pensioners were likely to incur high costs in seeking to sell. They concluded that the policy would not be taken forward, despite the loss of front-end-loaded tax revenue to the Exchequer. As I said, we supported the Government in that, and we oppose this amendment.

We were sceptical from the outset that this was a sensible policy, and my noble friend Lady Drake and I raised a number of concerns when it first surfaced as part of the Bank of England and Financial Services Act. Indeed, we went on a delegation to see the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, in her former role. There is of course no pre-existing secondary annuities market to help form a judgment on these matters, but what was proposed was potentially very complicated, with the players including individual annuity holders, potential beneficiaries and dependants, purchasers of rights of an annuity under a specific regulated activity, a further regulated activity for providers buying back annuities, regulated intermediaries, IFAs providing mandatory regulated advice, and authorised entities to check that holders of relevant annuities had received appropriate advice.

No wonder that even the then Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, opined that, for the vast majority of consumers, selling an annuity would not be the best decision. There would be significant costs arising from the necessary regulatory systems. There were further unresolved issues of means-tested benefits and social care and how the income deprivation and capital disregard rules would work in this context. There have been many problems—and, at the end of the day, concerns that there would be insufficient purchasers to make the market work for pensioners. I have not heard any new points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, that dislodge this conclusion. Surely there is more for the pensions sector to concentrate on at this time than complicated arrangements that will likely serve only a very few.

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My Lords, as we reach the last amendment in Committee, I point out that the Bill has been in the hands of two distinguished psychoanalysts—Freud and his disciple “Jung”. Between us, we have tried to look at the disorders in the Bill and prescribe appropriate remedies.

I thank the noble Baroness for raising this important issue. I understand the strong feelings that she expressed when she moved her amendment. In 2015, the Government introduced pension flexibilities, which gave people the freedom to choose how they use their pension savings. Over 300,000 people have chosen to flexibly access over £6 billion since they were introduced, and the Government are committed to keeping these freedoms in place.

In March 2015, the coalition Government announced proposals to remove the current restrictions on assigning existing annuities and to create the conditions for a secondary market to develop. The proposed reforms were in two main areas—removing the unauthorised payment tax that deters people from assigning their annuity, and working with the Financial Conduct Authority to establish a comprehensive consumer protection package. The Government engaged extensively with industry and consumer groups on how they could establish the conditions for an effective market to develop. It would not have been right to introduce measures before understanding the impact that they might have on consumers and ensuring that the necessary conditions for a successful market were in place. In the course of this engagement, it became increasingly clear that creating the conditions to allow a vibrant and competitive market to emerge, with multiple buyers and sellers of annuities, could not be balanced with sufficient consumer protection. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for setting out so clearly the problems that would have ensued had we proceeded.

On 19 October, Simon Kirby, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, made a Statement in the other place about the Government’s decision not to take this policy forward, which I repeated for your Lordships on the same day. Our investigations showed that many annuity providers were willing to allow consumers to assign their annuities. Of course, the market for annuities is itself undergoing change following the introduction of the pension freedoms. What became apparent is that, at this time, there would be insufficient purchasers to create a competitive market. Without a competitive market, consumers were likely to get poor value for their annuities and incur high costs for selling.

The Government are committed to the principle of giving people the freedom to make decisions about what to do with their money, which is why we have explored in detail how we could allow this market to emerge and protect consumers at the same time. But what has become clear is that the steps the Government would need to take to create demand in the market would undermine protections and increase the risk for consumers. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, cited Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister at the time, who said in the context of this decision:

“There did need to be a lot of potential buyers for this market to work”,

and that while the decision is,

“disappointing it is understandable”.

Rather than being to the benefit of British pensioners, this market would instead be to their detriment. It would clearly not be in consumers’ interests to continue with this policy. Only this afternoon, we have had a number of debates about the importance of protecting consumers, and this would be a step in the opposite direction.

I accept that some people will be disappointed, as the noble Baroness explained, although our analysis indicated that only 5% of annuitants would be interested in taking this option forward. While we accept the disappointment, I hope that noble Lords will agree that it would not be right at this time to allow a market to develop when it is likely to lead to poor consumer outcomes. With this in mind, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, which I obviously find extremely disappointing. This is a very serious issue. I understand that there were difficulties in producing a competitive market and that the Government support freedom of choice. However, pensioners will not have freedom of choice while they cannot access the secondary annuity market. I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the Minister for mentioning my colleague Steve Webb. His view is that the policy was abandoned because the Government did not put enough weight behind moving it forward. Had they done so, there might have been a different outcome.

At this time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but reserve the right to return to it on Report.

Amendment 81A withdrawn.

Clauses 41 and 42 agreed.

Clause 43: Commencement

Amendment 82 not moved.

Clause 43 agreed.

Clause 44 agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported with amendments.