Motion to Approve
My Lords, Northern Ireland’s occupational and personal pensions legislation broadly mirrors legislation in Great Britain. These regulations, therefore, make analogous minor and technical changes to Northern Ireland legislation as the regulations I have just spoken to. The intent of the regulations is the same: to make sure that Northern Ireland legislation continues to operate effectively once the UK withdraws from the European Union.
Let me explain why we are laying these regulations on behalf of Northern Ireland. The UK Government remain committed to restoring devolution in Northern Ireland. This is particularly important in the context of EU exit, where we want devolved Ministers to take the necessary actions to prepare Northern Ireland for exit. This includes ensuring that the necessary legislative corrections are made to ensure that Northern Ireland’s statute book is ready for exit day. That is consistent with the action being taken at Westminster and the other devolved legislatures.
However, with exit day only a few months away, and in the continued absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, the window to prepare Northern Ireland’s statute book for exit is narrowing. UK government Ministers have therefore decided that, in the interest of legal certainty in Northern Ireland, the UK Government will take through the necessary secondary legislation for Northern Ireland at Westminster. This was done in close consultation with the Northern Ireland Civil Service. This approach is being taken forward across government departments to make separate Northern Ireland statutory instruments which create a separate, transferable body of Northern Ireland legislation made at Westminster in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. This helps to keep a separate body of Northern Ireland law intact for when a functioning Executive and Assembly return.
It is common practice to have mirroring legislation in respect of Northern Ireland when legislating in the area of pensions. This is fundamentally no different. These regulations were developed in close co-operation with the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, and it has cleared the text of the regulations. This approach is common to that being taken across government departments—that is, to make separate Northern Ireland statutory instruments which create a separate, transferable body of Northern Ireland legislation made at Westminster in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. This helps to keep a separate body of Northern Ireland law intact for when a functioning Executive and Assembly return.
The list of specific legislation that these regulations amend is lengthy, and I would be happy to provide noble Lords with a list of the Northern Ireland legislation that is being changed. We will continue to work closely with the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, the Pensions Regulator and stakeholders to ensure that all parties are involved in the process where their interests are concerned. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will avoid repetition. In the debate on the previous SI, I logged my concerns about the UK leaving the EU pension cross-border regime, the protection of members’ assets and their movement in cross-border schemes, and the significance of the cross-border issue between Ireland and the UK. That particular problem triggers a concern about a wider issue.
These draft Northern Ireland regulations apply to policy areas which are a transferred matter for Northern Ireland. In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, the Government are taking steps to secure a functioning statute book in the event of a no deal. The UK Government are clearly taking through the necessary secondary legislation at Westminster in consultation with Northern Ireland departments. These regulations are a classic example of doing that in the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive. The Government are able to do that through the Section 8 powers in the withdrawal Act and Schedule 3, which relates to Northern Ireland in particular.
I fully appreciate and accept the problems that the Government face in Northern Ireland, but the democratic deficit that exists there, as a consequence of the problems that we face, is even more concerning in a no-deal scenario because the risks and consequences flowing from it are even greater. That will exaggerate the consequences of no deal and having no Northern Ireland Executive to express the opinion or represent the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. Could the Government look at what they can do, even with the withdrawal agreement, to have a strong relationship with the Irish regulator? The Northern Ireland Executive are not here to articulate the significant issue of pensions in Northern Ireland.
Will the Minister tell us more about what consultation there has been with the Irish regulator and stakeholders in Northern Ireland, not just about the technical details of these regulations but also on the wider implications for pensions and pension funds in Northern Ireland if there is no deal? Can she also confirm my reading of the Explanatory Memorandum and the text of the order? It is that this order went through exactly the same process as the previous one and had to be withdrawn because the defective drafting meant that it would not be possible for UK pension funds to invest in certain European assets under the changes that were first proposed. I assume that is because it was drafted in the same way as the first regulation and had to be changed in the same way. Is that the case? Was it the same defect in both regulations that had to be corrected?
Secondly, what further consultation has there been with the pensions industry in Northern Ireland since this new draft regulation has been laid? Does it have concerns similar to those which I quoted in relation to the previous regulation, and might more issues come out of further consultation? As my noble friend Lady Drake has said, there are some concerns about there not being a Northern Ireland Assembly or Executive. This has all been done at two stages removed and, since we have special duties in respect of Northern Ireland, it would be good to have reassurance that these processes have been gone through.
I will respond to both noble Lords on these issues around Northern Ireland. First, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, there was the same error when the regulations were first drafted. When that error was picked up, the situation was immediately changed. We withdrew the draft regulations and they were relaid in their current form on 3 December. It is important to stress that we have ongoing discussions. We consult with the Irish regulator and Pensions Regulator on an ongoing basis. We of course need to remove the cross-border regime that exists between two member states. We have, therefore, been in discussions with the Irish regulator and Pensions Regulator to reflect Northern Ireland and its relationship with Ireland, which will remain within the EU. These discussions will continue, as we want to make sure that we can transpose statutory instruments, doing for Northern Ireland as we do for the UK, to ensure that there is legal certainty.
In a no-deal situation, the UK cannot participate in the EU’s authorisation regime for cross-border activity, as we will no longer be a member state. However, we are working with the Pension Regulator, Northern Ireland and industry stakeholders to see what can be done to support members of cross-border schemes, including where employees or Irish employers are across the border and contribute to a UK occupational pension scheme. Notwithstanding the reality that these regulations do not address that, we are cognisant of the fact that we need to do all we can to work across border in relation to Northern Ireland and Ireland to ensure that, in any event, the proper protections can be put in place and we can reassure employers and employees with regard to occupational pension schemes. I hope that that goes some way to reassure noble Lords.
It is common practice to have mirroring legislation. These instruments do not make policy changes but are designed to ensure that UK law in the field of occupational and personal pensions continues to operate effectively in the event that the UK exits the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place. I hope that noble Lords will support these regulations.