Wednesday 26 February 2020
Pension Schemes Bill [HL]
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 4th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, good afternoon. I remind the Committee that, in the event of a Division in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn at the sound of the Division Bell and resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 109: Duty to give notices and statements to the Regulator in respect of certain events
27: Clause 109, page 95, line 15, at end insert—
“( ) In particular, the declaration of a dividend by the employer is a notifiable event for the purposes of subsection (1) if—(a) the value of the assets of the scheme is less than the amount of the liabilities of the scheme,(b) the amount of the dividend exceeds the annual deficit repair contribution, and(c) the amount of the annual deficit repair contribution is less than 20% of the difference between the value of the assets of the scheme and the amount of the liabilities of the scheme.”
My Lords, I hope that this was worth the wait.
Clause 109 allows the Government to prescribe certain events as notifiable events, which must be notified to the regulator in advance of their happening, along with an explanation of how any impact of such an event to the detriment of the scheme is to be mitigated.
Let me start with some general points. Clause 109 is very vague. It does not describe what such notifiable events will be, leaving them to be prescribed at a future date—more delegated powers, if you like. The government briefing paper indicates that they intend such events to include:
“(1) Sale of a material proportion of the business or assets of a scheme employer … (2) Granting of security on a debt to give it priority over debt to the scheme.”
We discussed at length on Monday the level of delegated powers in this Bill, and this is basically another one. However, in the other cases, the delegated powers are there partly because the Government have not yet formulated what they want to do with those regulations or because some consultation is still to take place. Here, the Government know what they intend to do, so I respectfully suggest to the Minister that it would be better if these details could appear on the face of the Bill.
On the specifics of my Amendment 27, the amendment would add the payment of dividends as a notifiable event in certain circumstances. As I have mentioned, the Government intend to make the granting of security in preference to debts to a pension fund notifiable. Granting such security is simply committing to paying money out of the company that cannot then be used to fund the pension deficit, so I confess that I am rather at a loss to understand how this is materially different from paying an excessive dividend, which is the actual payment of money out of a sponsoring company that cannot then be used to pay down a fund deficit. Indeed, paying an excessive dividend is probably worse—once the money is gone, it is gone—yet it is intended that granting a security will be notifiable whereas paying an excessive dividend will not.
There are plenty of examples from the past where companies with large pension deficits failed after paying out excessive amounts to shareholders—Carillion and BHS being just the latest high-profile examples. This is not a theoretical risk; it has happened in the past and will likely happen again, unless we do something about it. We will all be open to criticism if we miss this opportunity to take action to prevent such looting in the future.
The Government argue that stopping a company from paying dividends might damage the company and therefore damage the pension scheme, and I agree. Preventing the payment of reasonable dividends could increase the cost of capital, make raising future finance more difficult and even destabilise the company, all of which would increase the pension fund risk. For most well-run companies with a clear deficit reduction plan, a reasonable dividend will do no material harm, and we should note that most dividends end up in pension funds anyway.
For this reason, while I fully support the intentions behind Amendment 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, I think that we probably need to find a more balanced way to deal with the very real risk of excessive dividends. This is especially the case in the light of the increased penalties in the Bill. If trustees are asked to approve every dividend, they may simply decide that it is not worth their personal risk to approve any dividend.
As things stand at present, the regulator will not know about excessive dividends until after they have been paid, and even then the onus is on the regulator to spot them. Once paid, it is too late: money is gone and damage is done. It must therefore make sense for the regulator to be notified of excessive dividends in advance, when there is still the opportunity to do something about them.
Amendment 27 attempts to find a balance: it will not prevent normal, reasonable dividends that add no material risk to a pension scheme. It makes dividends notifiable in advance to the regulator, along with an explanation of how any risk would be mitigated, in certain limited circumstances. In defining those, I have tried to apply the concept that the regulator stated in its Annual Funding Statement March 2019, in which it raised concern about excessive dividends:
“Where dividends and other shareholder distributions exceed DRCs”—
deficit reduction contributions—
“we expect a strong funding target and recovery plans to be relatively short”.
Amendment 27 attempts to encapsulate that into the Bill. Dividends will be notifiable in advance if they do not meet the expectation stated by the regulator, if the fund is in deficit, if the dividend is greater than the deficit reduction contribution, and if the deficit repair period is more than five years. Other dividends would not need to be notified. As well as reducing the risk of excessive dividends, this might also have the additional benign effect of encouraging companies that want to pay larger dividends to reduce their deficits to avoid having to make notifications.
I am very open to discussion around alternative approaches to find the right balance. For example, one could potentially add other shareholder distributions, as opposed to just dividends, and the question of whether deficit repair period of five years is right is moot. But I believe strongly that we must take this opportunity to prevent future looting by shareholders of companies with pension scheme deficits. I hope that noble Lords and the Minister will agree that Amendment 27 represents a reasonable balance between, on the one hand, restricting a company’s ability to carry on normal business activities such as paying reasonable dividends and, on the other, reducing the possibility of another Carillion or BHS occurring. I hope that the Minister is able to consider it seriously. I beg to move.
My Lords, I apologise for not being here at Second Reading or at the beginning on Monday. The first absence was because I was in hospital; on Monday, I was also speaking in the other debate and so I was hopping between the two.
I have two amendments down, of which Amendment 84 is the first. It is in no way against the sentiment of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux—I obviously did not know that his amendment was going down. Amendment 84 constitutes 50% of a Private Member’s Bill that I tabled at the beginning of this Session—it is a straight take from that. I declare my interest as the president of the British Airline Pilots Association.
My amendment aims to deal with the problem that a lot of trade unionists perceive and has been expressed already—the Philip Green, BHS and Carillion problem. People who have worked very hard and built up pension entitlements see employers favouring dividends to shareholders over looking after the pension scheme that they have agreed to run for the people working for the company. In what one might call a rather crude way, because I did not know where to draw the line, I thought that the simplest thing would be to say that all dividends should be passed by the regulator.
Of course, we then come up against the fact that a number of trustee boards are effectively controlled by the companies. I therefore also put in that the Pensions Regulator would have an independent role anyway, because it would have to approve the dividends. Even if the trustees said, “We think that this is a jolly good thing”, the regulator might then say, “Yes, we agree”, or “No, we do not”. The Pensions Regulator would have a second look at it.
I will be the first to admit that this is not the most skilfully drafted amendment to set the world on fire, but it was put down for the purposes of generating a debate about a problem that needs addressing. That problem is the one already mentioned, of BHS and Carillion; in other words, the problem of irresponsible companies dealing—as many of those working for them would see it—in improper ways with the pension schemes.
There is a bit of danger that people—not in this Room, I am sure, but in society—will say, “Oh, the pension scheme doesn’t matter”. The pension scheme is the forgone wages of the workers; it is not something ethereal or charitable, or an extra on top. This is money that the company has agreed to pay to workers in return for the number of years that they work. It is their money, and companies should not be allowed to behave recklessly with it. That is what is behind this amendment.
As such, I commend it for noble Lords’ consideration, although I would be extremely surprised if the Minister were to get up and say, “Oh yes, that’s what we want”, and accepts it all.
I would be surprised as well.
My Lords, I support the thinking behind both these amendments. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Balfe, on the excellent way in which they have been introduced. Both amendments allow timely discussion of what is a large, widespread and probably growing problem.
After the publication of TPR’s annual funding review in March 2019, the Investment & Pensions Europe magazine reported that TPR had
“vowed to engage with a number of schemes this year if recovery periods were considered to be ‘unacceptably long’, and warned trustee boards to expect communications in the coming months. … Consultancy firm Hymans Robertson estimated that one in five FTSE 350 companies with DB schemes were at risk of intervention from TPR.”
That is an alarmingly large number.
To understand what TPR means by “communications”, it helps to look at what TPR in its annual funding review states as the three key principles behind its expectations. The first is:
“Where dividends and other shareholder distributions exceed DRCs, we expect a strong funding target and recovery plans to be relatively short.”
The second is:
“If the employer is … weak”
or tending to weak,
“we expect DRCs to be larger than shareholder distributions unless the recovery plan is short and the funding target is strong.”
The third is:
“If the employer is weak and unable to support the scheme, we expect … shareholder distributions to have ceased.”
These are all fine principles—in principle. The real question is how, or whether, they are in fact working. How many FTSE 350 companies has TPR intervened on in the last 12 months, and on how many occasions has it advised against or prevented shareholder distributions? Perhaps the Minister could give us an assessment of TPR’s success in applying its three key principles.
Both amendments in this group offer a simpler and different approach to restrictions on shareholder distributions, but in contrasting strengths. Both have the merit, it seems to me, of making responsible behaviour by employers more likely, and that is no small thing if there are 70 FTSE 350 companies out there needing effective intervention to protect employees’ pension rights. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I think we all understand the reason for these two amendments; whether one of these two or another amendment is to deal with the situation, it needs to be dealt with. I am slightly surprised that neither amendment would actually stop the payment of dividends. I think there is an argument that, where the finances obviously mean that a dividend cannot be afforded, the company should not be allowed to make a dividend payment. I am not sure that Amendment 27 or Amendment 84 addresses the issue as well as it might be addressed. The Government might have another look at what they want to achieve, which should be stopping payments of dividends where they cannot be afforded.
My Lords, I signed the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and agree entirely with the principle of both these amendments. I was particularly drawn to the notion of having a threshold and notification, as provided by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux. He circulated it for comment and therefore I signed it after some negotiations with him.
Put simply, if the deficit is large and the effort to close it is too small—smaller than the dividend—the payment of the dividend becomes a notifiable event. The sequel to that would surely be what the noble Lord, Lord Flight, has just pointed out: that it be looked at and perhaps in certain cases, though not all if there are other things that could be taken into account, the dividend payment be stopped. The point is that it is brought to the regulator’s notice, rather than the regulator potentially having to look at an awful lot of dividends and payments being made. Indeed, how will the regulator even find out about them? The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, solves that little loop of how the regulator gets to know about them and has a reasonable number to look at rather than being overwhelmed.
In our negotiations, we tried to find a formula to keep the momentum going to close the gap, even within the five years, as a lot can go wrong in that period. I got as far as something like “the ratio of the dividend to deficit not being greater than the reciprocal of the remaining years and not conveniently commutative”. I concluded that, if I carried on in that way, I would have to put in a job application to Dominic Cummings.
More seriously—I refer here to the helpful meeting I had with the Minister and officials yesterday—I want to see some specific push in the Bill for the regulator to be tougher, including in setting the contribution schedule for paying down the deficits. As has already been explained by other noble Lords, TPR has come forward with a set of principles, but maybe it needs something to back them up and get them over the line in enforcing them.
In the meeting yesterday, it was pointed out that more powers are being given to the regulator in the Bill and that regulations will be forthcoming. That is well and good, but something has to make sure that the regulator is urged to use those powers and to be strong, especially in standing up to larger and more forceful companies and individuals. We know that the record there is not necessarily all that good. The policy impetus needs to come from government and Parliament; otherwise, there may be more power but no enforced policy shift.
We also know that boards will take advice on these kinds of matters and be told what the market norms are, or at least what other companies have done. If the dial is to be shifted, the advice has to be shifted. The way to ensure that advice is shifted is for there to be an indication of the policy in the Bill, because an adviser cannot go against that in their duty to advise the companies.
It was very good to hear that the new offences that we discussed on Monday—which seems a long time ago now—are wide enough to embrace advisers, but you have to get at what their duty is to those they are advising. There are lots of reasons to have something in the Bill to make sure that the principles already outlined by TPR have that backing to be enforced and have that effect. As I said on Monday, it should not be normal to accept overly long continuation of deficits just because a company is well capitalised.
There can be many claims on and reasons for that extra capitalisation—there may be lots of tentative reasons why they need it. There might be plans to spend it to buy another company. All kinds of things could be going on, and what looks like a good capital margin could actually be shoring up many other things as well as the pension deficit. What is the excuse to the Pensions Regulator? What excuse might be given to other sources? Some of the clever analysts may work out what is going on; the ordinary investor and the ordinary pensioner is unlikely to do so. Therefore, I support the principle of both the amendments: something should go in the Bill to push or shore up the Pensions Regulator in its actions.
My Lords, I rise briefly—I have added my name to one of the amendments—to support the concept that has been so well explained already by noble Lords and to echo the warnings that this is a very important time in our defined benefit pension system, as we still have employers attached to schemes and, in some cases, members contributing. Some schemes are still not completely closed. Once a scheme has closed to new members, it will not be too long before it closes to new accruals and it will effectively be in run-off. While there are still employers with an interest in the scheme and before we get to the period, which will come in the next 10 years or so, when there is no economic interest between the employer and the scheme and it is seen merely as a major liability—with more and more companies looking for ways to get around the deficits—now is the time to be collecting as much money as possible.
Obviously, one does not want to damage the ongoing viability of the employer, but there needs to be more recognition of the fact that the pension scheme is a debtor of the company—not all companies see it in that way—and the choice between dividend payment and deficit funding should not be just between the interest of shareholders and the interest of pension scheme members. The pension deficit has people’s lives attached, so there is a higher importance here.
When one looks at the provisions of the Companies Act 2006, in particular with reference to Amendment 84, Section 830 says that a company should not be permitted to pay out a dividend if it has not made sufficient profit to cover its costs or if there are losses in the company. What is not explicit, but is made explicit in the amendment, which was originally part of my noble friend Lord Balfe’s Private Member’s Bill, is that the accounting measure of the pension deficit does not reflect the actuarial reality as estimated by a scheme actuary, or perhaps by trustees, of the true scale of the obligation—in other words, potential losses—that the company faces. Therefore, redefining the accounting measure and taking account of the actuarial measure would put the payment of dividend on a different plane. That is to be reflected in Section 830A, which would be added after Section 830, in terms of justification for payment of a dividend that might otherwise look viable.
My Lords, I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister says about this and whether the sort of concerns that have been expressed are already dealt with somewhere else. A very good point has been made.
I want to ask a question on Amendment 27, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux. He talks about the value of the assets of the scheme, and my noble friend Lady Altmann made this point; there is a big difference between an actuarial valuation and an insurance valuation in a scheme. If you were to base this on an insurance valuation, you would catch quite a lot of pension schemes, including those which probably could pay some dividends. I was a little concerned about that, and I would like some clarification when we come to wind up on what is intended.
My Lords, I support the principle behind Amendment 27, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, but equally I have sympathy with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Flight. When it comes to dividends, the mischief may be done regarding money leaving the sponsoring employer’s company before the regulator can mobilise its full armoury of powers. This is particularly true where the dividends are paid to parent companies overseas, where pursuing a legal route by the regulator may be difficult, even more so if we leave the EU, because jurisdictions will change—except possibly foreign-owned UK banks, where in fact the PRA has the power to intrude pre-emptively on dividends going over to the parent company. To that extent, there is an element of precedent, and the PRA would take into account the debt in the pension fund in considering the sustainability issue when it strikes a view on dividends paid to the parent company.
I give credit to the proactive approach that the regulator is now taking to red flag where there is a kind of big ratio between dividends and deficit payment. However, that must be retrospective. The issue is capturing that mischief at the point when the money leaves the company; I am particularly concerned about where it is a foreign-owned company. Therefore, if some way could be found—perhaps by the regulator working with the department—to embrace dividends in some way in the notifiable events regime, that would be helpful. It is a problem, and once the money is gone, it is difficult to chase it, particularly when you have to go to jurisdictions where the power of TPR may not be strong.
My Lords, the Committee should thank the noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Balfe, for having enabled this debate. One gets a high quality of debate on pension Bills; it is very well informed indeed.
We have been left with three questions. Is there a problem? Is it getting worse? And what are we going to do about it? I think there is a pretty much unanimous view around the Committee that we have a problem and that it is not going to disappear. As more DB schemes close, they will pay out more in pensioner payments, leaving them less to invest and reap returns, so they will start de-risking their remaining investments. This is the moment we have to address that.
We know that there is a problem. As my noble friend Lady Drake said at Second Reading, the Work and Pensions Select Committee report highlighted that half of FTSE 350 companies paid out 10 times more to shareholders than to their DB pension schemes. However, in some ways the key issue is the ratio, which was touched on by a couple of noble Lords. TPR certainly mentioned it in its annual funding statement, and it drilled down in its Tranche 14 Analysis for DB pension schemes, published last May. It looked at the FTSE 350 companies that sponsor DB schemes as the main or primary sponsoring employer and said that it found that
“The median ratio of dividends to DRCs”—
deficit repair contributions—
“has increased from 9.2:1 in 2012 to 14.2:1”,
in the latest figures available, so it has gone from nine to 14 between 2012 and last year. Clearly, this is going in the wrong direction. It noted:
“This is mainly driven by the significant increase in aggregate dividends over the period, without a similar increase in contributions.”
Therefore we have a problem. The regulator itself said in its last funding statement that it remains
“concerned about the disparity between dividend growth and stable DRCs”,
and it highlighted recent corporate failures. If the regulator is concerned, then the Minister should be concerned.
The Minister’s argument may be that the regulator already runs an internal control system, where it flags high dividend payments. A number of noble Lords, however, made the point that it is retrospective and that, depending on the valuation, it may not pick up all the areas where there is a problem. Noble Lords also cited TPR’s funding statement, which set out the key principles behind its expectations about what should happen when an employer is weak, the ratio is high, or the employer cannot support the scheme.
Can the Minister assure us that there are not more cases coming in with high ratios and long recovery plans? The TPR says it is going to stop that. Is it not a problem anymore, or is there a target for when it will not be? TPR could refuse to agree a funding strategy for a scheme in various ways but, as my noble friend Lady Drake pointed out so clearly, that is, first, retrospective; secondly, what happens if the money goes overseas? I would be grateful if the Minister could pick that up.
We all think there is a problem; the question is how we go about addressing it. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said that his was a strong way to attack it, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, has come up with the notifiable regime as a way to do it. Whatever the Government are going to do, they need to do something about this.
Perhaps I could highlight some areas where action is needed, where dividends are high relative to deficit payments in DB schemes. There are particular circumstances: for example, where there is a real risk that money in dividends is an effective form of employer debt avoidance; where it downgrades the status of the pension scheme as a creditor to which the employer owes money; or where it raises the risk that the dividend payments are at a level that they could materially threaten the strength of the employer, which will in turn risk the strength of the scheme. We know that this is a problem because the regulator has had to deal with real, high-profile cases.
The questions for the Minister are: does she accept that there is a problem, and does she agree with the regulator that it is getting worse? If the answer to both those questions is yes, what is she going to do about it? Does she like the way forward proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, or does it feel too intrusive? Would she prefer that of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, or does she think that would not work? That leaves her with only two possibilities. One is that she thinks that the powers the regulator has now, or will have soon, are enough. In which case, can she tell us how that will solve the problems described here? The other is that she has another way of dealing with it, which we do not yet know about. Which of those is it?
I urge the Minister to think hard about this because if the next scandal, one comparable to BHS or Carillion, turns out to be a company that shipped a load of money out the door just before it went down, it will not look very good if the Minister has had the opportunity to tell us how to solve it and has been unable to do so.
I thank the noble Lords for tabling these amendments and all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. It would be helpful to consider these amendments together, as they seek to address the payment of dividends when a defined benefit pension scheme is in deficit. One amendment seeks to prevent the payment of a dividend unless signed off by the trustees and the regulator; the other would require the sponsoring employers of pension schemes to submit a notice and accompanying statement to the regulator and to trustees when the employer declares a dividend in certain circumstances.
I do not think that the amendment to the Companies Act would have the effect that I believe is intended, as there are various technical problems with it. I will not go into these now, as it is more important to address the principles. The Government agree that defined benefit pension schemes in deficit should get a fair proportion of the resources available to employers.
The Government believe that they are taking a proportionate approach. The problem is not the payment of dividends; it is that some companies do not pay enough into their defined benefit pension schemes as part of the recovery plan when the scheme is in deficit. We believe we can address this problem proportionately without inhibiting reasonable dividend payments, which are a legitimate and essential part of normal business activity. We inhibit investment in UK business at our peril. A strong, profitable employer is the best possible protection for pension scheme members.
In addition, I should point out that pension schemes are also major investors. They receive significant dividends, and inhibiting or blocking these payments would impact their income and funding position.
The Pensions Regulator can, and does, take action to ensure that sponsors treat their schemes fairly. For example, in one case, a defined benefit scheme is now better funded after an upfront payment of £10 million, a reduction in the recovery plan length from 13 to seven years, annual deficit recovery payments of £3.7 million and a commitment to stop dividend payments for six years.
Information about dividends paid by these companies may be needed, but this is already available for public companies and can be obtained for private ones. The regulator takes this into consideration when it is looking at risks to a pension scheme. It would be disproportionate and unnecessary to require the sponsoring employers of pension schemes to submit a notice and accompanying statement to the regulator when the employer declares a dividend. Provided that a suitable recovery plan is in place, and the employer has the resources to pay the additional deficit repair contributions agreed, the company should be able to choose what it does with the remainder of the distributable reserves—it is rightly subject to business priorities.
But we do need to do more to ensure that the regulator can take a tough line where needed. That is why we are taking a power in this Bill to set out more clearly in secondary legislation what is required for an appropriate recovery plan. The secondary legislation will be informed by the regulator’s consultation on its revised funding code, and will work in tandem with it. The code will set clear expectations on what is an acceptable recovery plan, include guidelines on recovery plan length and structure, and support the regulator in enforcing these standards.
I turn now to some of the specific questions raised. The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, asked why the requirement under new Section 69A for a notice and accompanying statement cannot be included the Bill. New Section 69A is intended to give the Pensions Regulator information about events that pose greatest risk to pension schemes. The range of events for which a notice and accompanying statement must be given will be varied and will likely change in time. As such, the Government consider this to be a matter that is appropriate for secondary legislation. By setting out the range of events that are subject to the notification requirement in regulations, this enables new events to be added, or existing events to be removed, in order to keep pace with changing business practices.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, asked: why do we not propose to require a notice and accompanying statement when a dividend is paid? Dividends paid by companies with a pension scheme surplus, or those where an appropriate recovery plan is in place and deficit repair contributions are being paid, are unlikely to have adverse impact on the scheme or require any mitigations. A notice and accompanying statement about dividend payments by these companies would be unnecessary, and handling this information would be an ineffective use of the Pensions Regulator’s resources. Instead, the regulator will focus on companies where schemes are in deficit and where an appropriate recovery plan is not in place. Information about dividends paid by these companies may be needed, but this is already available for public companies and can be obtained by private ones.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, asked: if dividends are not limited, is there not a risk that all the money will be gone before the needs of the scheme are considered? The trustee and sponsoring employer agree an appropriate funding target and deficit repair contributions to eliminate any deficit over an appropriate period. If an appropriate recovery plan is not in place, the regulator has powers to impose a schedule of contributions. Provided that an appropriate recovery plan is in place and the agreed deficit repair contributions are being paid, it is right that how other resources are used is a matter of business priorities. It would not be helpful or proportionate for the payment of dividends to be notified to the regulator.
Of course, there is a risk that excessive dividend payments could be made, which could result in the sponsor being unable to meet its obligations to make payments as part of the recovery plan, but this is very much the exception rather than the rule. We think that intervention to prevent dividend payments in some circumstances poses a greater risk of inhibiting investment in UK business and that our approach can deter inappropriate dividend payments and put things right if that happens.
The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, requested information about the regulator’s success in engaging with employers, and we will write to the noble Lord with that information.
Does the Minister accept that a regime for notifying dividends is not necessarily the same as stopping the payment of dividends?
I will carry on and answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and then I will answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake.
The noble Lord, Lord Flight, asked what the Government are doing to reform the UK’s dividend regime. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is considering the case for requiring companies to disclose information about their distributable reserves from which dividends are paid. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has been asked to provide technical advice and options for doing so. It is expected to report shortly. Sir Donald Brydon’s recent independent review into the quality and effectiveness of audit recommended that directors make a statement that the proposed dividends would not threaten the existence of the company and are within known distributable reserves, and, in some circumstances, that the distributable reserves should be subject to audit. Further consultation on this is expected later this year. The department has welcomed the Investment Association’s recommendation to companies that they should publish a dividend policy setting out the board’s long-term approach to making decisions on the amount and timing of return to shareholders.
In answer to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, yes, notifying is different from stopping. We do not want to stop them; we want to focus on ensuring that an appropriate recovery plan is in place. Things can be put right.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked how the Pensions Regulator knows what resources the employer has and whether a recovery plan is appropriate. In assessing the appropriateness of a recovery plan, the Pensions Regulator looks at the strength of the employer covenant, which is a measure of the ability of a scheme’s employer to support the scheme now and in future. The regulator takes account of a range of employer-specific information, including underlying trading strength and trajectory, profits, cash flows, debt structure, market risks and opportunities, asset strength, and insolvency risk. This can come from a range of sources including statutory accounts, publicly available information such as credit ratings, market analysts’ views, sectoral analysis and analysis performed by the trustees, the employer or its adviser. The regulator will also focus on how a company uses the cash flow it generates to assess whether a scheme is receiving an appropriate and fair share of these amounts. Greater clarity will be provided through the provisions we are proposing in the Bill, and the regulator intends to set clearer guidelines on recovery plan length and structures for schemes in different circumstances. This will help to improve regulatory grip and make enforcement easier.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, also asked how we will ensure that companies with significant available resources address defined benefit pension scheme funding shortfalls more quickly. Most employers do the right thing and treat their schemes fairly, but we know that this best practice is not universal and that some employers are not devoting a fair proportion of available resources to paying down deficits. We are determined to do something about this.
The Pensions Regulator already takes action to ensure that sponsoring employers treat their defined benefit schemes fairly, but with the help of the measures in this Bill, the regulator can and will be tougher. The regulator is consulting on a revised funding code, which will set clear expectations on what recovery plan lengths and structures are acceptable, and we are taking a power to set out more clearly in secondary legislation what is required for an appropriate recovery plan. We will work closely with the regulator during the consultation and ensure that our regulations support its ability to take action against employers that do not pay a reasonable proportion of their available resources to bringing down any pension scheme deficit.
In the absence of detailed evidence as to why it is essential in the circumstances of the employer, the regulator is unlikely to recognise a need to pay dividends as reasonable justification for an overly long recovery plan. Where an appropriate recovery plan is not agreed, the regulator will consider using its powers to impose a suitable recovery plan, so that the scheme gets a fair share of the available resources.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Sherlock, asked whether we should prevent dividend payments going to shareholders outside the UK. According to the latest ONS figures, nearly 54% of the value of shares in UK quoted companies are held by investors outside the UK. There are no grounds for treating overseas and domestic shareholders differently. The UK would be a significantly less attractive economy in which to invest if foreign shareholders enjoyed lesser rights than UK shareholders.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about the ratio of dividends to DRCs. I am advised that we will write to her on that.
I hope noble Lords will recognise that the measures I have outlined to strengthen funding, which are to be found elsewhere in this Bill, are the best way to tackle employers that do not direct an appropriate proportion of available resources to managing the pension scheme deficit. As such, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I want to pursue a couple of points. I am a simple soul compared to many around the table who can come back to the noble Baroness on the detail. However, I think that she has just said in summary that the regulator knows that some companies have a problem in this area but feels that, by and large, the current regime gives it the tools to deal with it; where there is a gap, it will deal with it by secondary legislation, which will be clearer about the requirements for an appropriate recovery plan; and that anything above that, such as notification, will be disproportionate and unnecessary. I invite her to correct me if I am wrong.
I will bring her back to what is missing from that statement. First, it is pre-emptive and proactive in nature. Neither I nor the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, said that separate rules should be set up for overseas shareholders or companies with them. We were making the point that one of the reasons that it would be useful to have a notification requirement, as set out by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, would be so that money would not be taken out and the regulator would not then have to go after it—rather, it would get advance notice that this was going to happen and could see whether it was appropriate. The point about overseas companies was simply that, if money goes overseas, it is much harder and more expensive to get it back if the regulator goes after it.
I come back to my question: why do the Government not believe that it would be useful to have some requirement that companies should notify the regulator if they declare a dividend where there was a DRC in place? Why is that a problem?
Requiring the payment of dividends to be reported is not necessarily very helpful to the regulator. It is likely to inhibit legitimate business processes without getting more resources for the scheme. We need to take a proportionate approach. We think that the priority is to ensure that a suitable recovery plan is put in place that takes account of the full range of circumstances of the employer and the scheme.
Trustees and the regulator need to look at a whole range of demands on the employer’s resources. Dividends are just one of these. Others may include maintenance of its business, and investments in its sustainable growth and debt repayments. All of these need to be considered in deciding whether a recovery plan is fair.
The Pensions Regulator scrutinises all valuations and recovery plans submitted, assesses the key risks, and assesses whether further engagement and potential enforcement action is required. Measures in the Bill will help to clarify exactly what is required for an appropriate recovery plan. Along with the regulator’s revised funding code, these measures will make it clear to trustees and employers what is expected, and will support the regulator in taking enforcement action where necessary. Provided that an appropriate recovery plan is in place, how the employer chooses to spend the remainder of its free resources is rightly a matter of business priority.
I have listened carefully to the debate and cannot help but think that this is not sufficiently fleet of foot to prevent those such as BHS and Carillion—there is recent past history on this—which were basically giant Ponzi schemes towards the end, where they were paying dividends instead of funding the pension scheme, had deliberately obscure governance rules and left their pensioners bereft of a considerable proportion of their money. Is this system sufficiently fleet of foot? Would it take account of a company which then decided to sell itself to another person for, for the sake of argument, £1? Would it help to cover the situations covered by the amendments? It does not sound to me as though we are doing anything different from just saying, “Everybody has the right to the appropriate dividends.” How do we know that those dividends are appropriate, and how do we have power for the regulator to ensure that there are not some really bad guys out there?
The noble Baroness makes some valid points. We consider that dividends are paid at a point in time. The regulator needs to form a picture of the employers’ ability to pay and, for a period in the future, needs to see the whole picture.
Can we try to narrow the point of difference? The Minister is often being given briefings which cover points with which no one disagrees. To interpret her last answer to me, the Government are saying that they do not want every company to tell them why they are paying a dividend because there will be too much information and it will take too much resource to process, rather than focusing on things that raise a particular problem. However, the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, does not suggest that; it simply suggests that, in some very specific circumstances, there should be a notification of a declaration to pay a dividend. He suggested that those circumstances are that there will be a dividend, there is a deficit on the scheme, the amount of the dividend exceeds the DRC and a ratio between the different on the valuation. If the Government think that those are the wrong criteria, they could suggest alternative criteria. I am trying to get to the bottom of what is the problem of saying, “In certain circumstances where there could be a risk, it will be helpful to have a requirement on companies to notify the regulator as part of the notifiable events regime so that it can then do something about those risk situations”? Why is that a problem?
The last word I would use to describe the noble Baroness is simple; that is not the case. She and other noble Lords have raised some interesting, valid and appropriate points on this issue. I believe that the best way that we can delve down into this and, I hope, give the comfort that they are looking for, is to meet to discuss it outside the Committee, which we are happy to do.
I would just say that my argument is not with the noble Baroness personally; she will be provided with the arguments to answer the points we are asking. The argument she put was that the recovery plan would be the route through which one would deal with an excessive payout of dividend, but the recovery plan is also based on an assumption about the strength of the sponsoring employer covenant. If, after that recovery plan is settled, there is a huge dividend payout—particularly to an overseas parent—which impacts the strength of that covenant, I cannot believe that the regulator would sit there and say, “We will wait until the next actuarial valuation and the new recovery plan before we act”. It would act: it has a range of powers to act straightaway. If there is a material change in the constituent elements that went into the recovery plan, the regulator has to act. A major excess of dividend payment from the sponsoring employer could materially impact the covenant strength. That is already in legislation. We just want to capture the impact of the high levels of dividend payment.
I thank the noble Baroness for the points she has made. I think we should put this into the conversation that we will have to try to give answers which give noble Lords the comfort they need. My officials will call a meeting, and we will look at Hansard and try our very best to answer all the specific questions and allow further debate to resolve these issues.
May I also be included in this meeting?
The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, is similar to the point that I was going to make. Some of the answers the Minister gave, in particular to my questions, were good and comprehensive, but they rely on having an appropriate plan in place. The point is that there are times when the appropriate plan is no longer appropriate, and at that point it all falls apart. I think what the Minister has said is that in regulations there will be things that will allay some of our fears, but it would be nice to have something about that in the Bill, because otherwise we are taking it on trust. It is not that we inherently mistrust the Minister or her officials. Of course there have been previous framework provisions that have been remarkably empty of policy, but that does not make it correct. The Government and this Parliament make policy. Regulators do not make policy; they shy away from it. There is no greater making of policy than putting it in the Bill.
I would also like to be involved in the further talks. We have to try to find a way of dealing with big risks between recovery plans without gungeing up the system for the regulator so that it cannot focus on what matters rather than on what does not matter with the bureaucracy overtaking the objective.
I also want to be invited. A critical feature of the discussion is the effectiveness of TPR. When we have the meeting—to which almost everybody seems to be invited—it would be very helpful to have a detailed discussion on what assessment the Government have made of the performance of TPR against its three key principles, certainly in the past year and perhaps slightly longer. I know the Minister gave an example of TPR being effective, but that was one example and I would like to see more data on why we should have faith in TPR’s ability to police this scheme or any scheme.
We will pass a piece of paper around, and if noble Lords will write their names on it, we will make sure they are all invited.
I am sorry if I am repeating myself. I am well aware of the expertise of noble Lords in this Room who work in the industry. It is highly regarded and highly respected. The message in the points that noble Lords are making is received. We will meet to talk about them in more depth. That will give officials more time to reflect on the very detailed questions that noble Lords have asked, collect data, answer some of the exam questions and try to come to a place where we all understand and agree on what we are trying to do. We take it in that spirit. In that spirit, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this excellent debate and the Minister for agreeing to meet with us—given the number of us wanting to attend that meeting, I slightly wonder whether we should not adjourn and have it now.
This debate has demonstrated a very clear feeling that there is a potential problem here and, as I said in introducing the debate, I have quite a lot of sympathy with the idea that getting too heavy-handed could damage the companies and notifying everything could clog up the Pensions Regulator. I do not disagree with any of that.
The noble Baroness mentioned that this risk is the exception; we are talking about the exception here and trying to make sure that it does not happen. There is a balance to be found. My amendment may well not be the right balance, but it was an attempt to find some sort of balance or at least to work our way towards one. There is also a danger of overcomplicating.
When we meet, we need to sit down and work out where that balance lies, and this issue needs to be dealt with in the legislation. It is too important. We cannot afford another BHS or Carillion situation. However, on that basis and looking forward to the meeting, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
Clause 109 agreed.
Clause 110: Interviews
28: Clause 110, page 97, line 2, at end insert—
“72B Provision of information: further provision(1) The Regulator may, by notice in writing, require the trustees of a scheme to which section 35 of the Pensions Act 1995 applies to provide information as set out in subsection (5).(2) A notice under subsection (1) may include a requirement for information—(a) to be disclosed to the Regulator on a periodic basis, and(b) in respect of specified periods of time.(3) Where the provision of information is required by a notice under subsection (1), the information must be provided in such a manner, at such a place and within such a period as may be specified in the notice.(4) The Regulator must publish information provided in respect of the provisions set out in subsection (5) on its website within one month of receiving it in a form that is searchable and easily accessible.(5) For the purposes of subsection (1), information to be provided on request of the Regulator is any information set out in—(a) regulation 29A of the Occupational and Personal Pension Scheme (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2013 (publishing charges and transaction costs and other relevant information), and(b) paragraph 30 of Schedule 3 of the Occupational and Personal Pension Scheme (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2013.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would place a reporting duty on the Pensions Regulator to publish statements of investment principles (SIPs) under section 35 of the Pensions Act 1995. The amendment would place a requirement on the Pensions Regulator to create a SIP repository, accessible to the public through its website, so that all scheme members could check their scheme’s investment strategy.
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 28 in my name in this group and will speak to Amendment 92, to which I have added my name. I also support a number of the other amendments. The noble Lords who tabled them will obviously rise shortly to expound on their own aspects of this issue.
The main area this group deals with is the environmental impacts that pension funds can have. We have £1.3 trillion of pension assets; they can help tackle climate change. Our country will host the COP 26 in December, at which we will have the opportunity to show world leadership in our thinking on climate change and policies to address these issues.
Climate change, as most of us believe, poses a potentially material risk to pensions and financial assets. The insurer Aviva estimates that investors could lose £2.7 trillion from investment value globally due to climate change. I am delighted that the Government have tabled amendments giving Ministers a power to require pension schemes to disclose how they manage climate-related financial risks in line with the more detailed, granular requirements of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.
I support those amendments, but the Government have said that they will require only large schemes to report in line with the TCFD disclosure requirements. They have not said what “large” means, but I assume it will probably not include schemes with fewer than 5,000 members, for example. These smaller schemes still need to manage the risks to savers’ pensions potentially posed by climate change. Amendment 28 is therefore calling for the Pensions Regulator to create a compliance framework based on a public register of schemes and ESG—environmental, social and governance —investment policies.
In October 2018, the Government changed the law to require UK pension scheme trustees to prepare a policy on how they manage the financially material risks arising from issues such as climate change. Trustees are required to state these policies in their statement of investment principles, a statutorily mandated document which all schemes are required to have. Trustees should have updated these statements by 1 October 2019. Some schemes were required to publish them at that point.
However, the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association has reviewed—with the help of the Pensions Regulator—the policies of a representative sample of these UK trust-based pensions. For those schemes, representing 3 million or so savers, its report found clear evidence that “large scale non-compliance” with this requirement exists and that trustees had not been publishing their statement of investment principles. Two-thirds of the schemes in its sample had not published, and of those which had the policies were pretty thin and noncommittal.
It is not exactly clear why trustees are failing to disclose and comply with this new law. The UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association has suggested that it may be because smaller schemes—schemes with fewer than 5,000 members, let us say—do not have a website, so the administrative burden of publishing these statements and complying with the law has proved overly taxing for them. There has therefore been a recommendation that the Pensions Regulator should be given a duty to obtain these statements of investment principles and publish them on its own website in a central registry. Amendment 28 seeks to insert this into the Bill.
If the Pensions Regulator has the power to obtain and publish these statements of investment principles, it will obviously be able to remove the administrative burden from the schemes. It will also give the regulator a much better ability to monitor compliance with these requirements. It will improve the transparency and scrutiny of the schemes’ policies to manage these environmental, social and governance risks, as well as providing the industry with a resource to find out about and share best practice. Importantly, it would allow scheme members to see their own schemes’ investment policies. These are the reasons why I urge the Minister to consider whether we might be able to insert this provision into the Bill.
The notion of a public register of these statements of investment principles and implementation statements could be a powerful way to drive up trustee awareness of action on the risks arising from climate change. It would allow monitoring and scrutiny of what these schemes currently do better to educate those which may not be compliant—some of these laggards, perhaps —about what the leading trustees and schemes are doing. Campaign groups could scrutinise this. Ministers could also scrutinise and report on the issues that are so important and potentially powerful in allowing our country to be a leader in this field, given the size of our pension assets. They dwarf those of most other countries, particularly in Europe. It could help to fill an important hole in the Government’s overall climate change strategy.
The Government are of course right to mandate that the large schemes are going to do this. As I say, I support the government amendments, but we should also bear in mind that this is a question of protecting all pension savers’ money—not just in the large schemes but in all schemes—from the risk of climate change. Therefore to expose workers in small companies or small schemes to more financial risks from climate change does not seem an effective way forward. We have an opportunity in the Bill to make a real difference. There is scope to help the pensions industry be better able to address the financial risks of climate change and to be better aligned with the interests of savers, who will increasingly be concerned about these issues. This is an opportunity to put our pension funds and pension industry on a more sustainable footing and, if noble Lords will forgive this play on words, it can also include sustainable investments in relation to climate and environmental sustainability.
I have added my name to Amendment 92 in the name of the Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I support Amendments 75 and 89, which talk about requiring schemes to align their portfolios with the Paris agreement objectives. The UK Government need to ensure that pension investment portfolios are aligned with, for example, the UK’s emission reduction targets. Pension funds also need to act to protect their beneficiaries’ savings from these financial risks. For example, research from the leading consultancy Mercer has found that for nearly all asset classes, regions and timeframes, a 2 degree increase in global temperature scenario would lead to much better projected returns than if there was a 3 or 4 degree increase in global temperatures. The requirements in these amendments would not necessarily involve disinvestment from any particular sector; it does not direct how the trustees must invest. It would involve trustees in assessing whether their assets in their portfolios have a clear strategy for, for example, aligning their business model with the UK emissions reduction timeline and taking appropriate action. That would also give the companies clear incentives to develop Paris-compliant business models and invest in low-carbon opportunities, making it much easier for the Government to achieve their own targets.
Amendment 92, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would help to facilitate this by requiring pension schemes to report against the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures framework. The amendment would ensure that all pension schemes have to report against the same frameworks, so there is commonality here, and, as I say, it does not dictate that schemes have to pursue a particular investment or disinvestment strategy. It would be left to the trustees. Operational independence, which is, of course, an important part of our system for trustees, is maintained. However, the requirement to disclose how the trustees are mitigating climate risk should also help to drive up standards of trusteeship, as well as protecting these assets and enhancing the UK’s global role in tackling climate change and other related issues.
I beg to move, and I look forward to the debate, other noble Lords’ contributions and the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 28, which the Baroness, Lady Altmann, has just cogently explained to the Committee. I will speak to that, as well as to my own Amendment 52, about the information available for dashboards. I shall also speak to Amendments 74, 75, 76 and 92, which, as the noble Baroness mentioned, seek to strengthen the Government’s welcome Amendment 73, which recognises the salience of climate change to pension funds and to the Bill. I remind the Committee of my interests as co-chair of Peers for the Planet, and that my son works for Make My Money Matter.
The rationale behind all the amendments to which I am speaking relates to the climate crisis and the ways in which it needs to be taken into account in pensions legislation and regulation. There are three main areas of focus and salience for doing this. The first is to ensure transparency, so that individuals have the relevant information and therefore the choice over, and power to influence the behaviour of, the funds in which they are invested, on which they will depend for their pensions now or in the future. There is much survey evidence to show that this is a priority for savers and that there is an appetite for environmentally responsible investment. In an article in the Telegraph, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, and the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said:
“People must be able to see and understand whether their funds are invested in line with the values that they hold.”
The second driver of these amendments is to protect the interests of savers by shining a spotlight on how effectively scheme managers and pension funds are planning for, and mitigating the risks of, the effects of climate change. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said, there have been a large number of surveys and reports, such as from Mercer and Aviva, as well as the research by JP Morgan reported in the papers this weekend, which paint a grim picture of the effects on financial institutions and the economy if measures are not taken. Climate change and the threats to the economy that it poses are financially material issues for funds. It is clearly part of the fiduciary duty of pension fund trustees to act in the long-term interests of investors. This is fundamental information, which should be available in dashboards and other areas.
The third element behind these amendments is to encourage pension funds to use their huge economic power to play their part in meeting our 2050 targets and in transforming our economy to thrive in a low and zero-carbon environment. UK pension funds hold more than £1.6 trillion in assets. The size and influence of pension schemes mean they have a vital role to play in ensuring that the UK meets its climate commitments, as the Environmental Audit Committee noted in its Greening Finance report.
Those are the rationales behind the amendments. On Amendment 28, as the noble Baroness said, the report by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association showed that two-thirds of schemes were not actually publishing their SIP. The proposal in the amendment to set up a registry—which has been done before with the modern slavery registry—is a good example of how this could work. It would ensure that all schemes would be covered and that all ESG, not just climate change, would be covered.
I would also support Amendment 36 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, which goes slightly wider by ensuring that implementation statements and chairs’ statements would be made available to the Pensions Regulator.
My Amendment 52 would ensure that consumer dashboards include information on how pension schemes’ investments align with the UK Stewardship Code and the objectives of the Paris agreement. As well as supporting transparency, there is a strong interest among savers in environment, social and governance issues, so the provision of greater information can also help to drive an increase in savings. DfID research into people’s views on sustainable investment has shown that more than two-thirds of UK savers would like their investments to be responsible and impactful. Aviva, which has done much work in this area, found that 57% of people expect ESG or ethical investment options in a workplace pension and 30% say that pension providers are responsible for making sure that their savings are used for good, yet most pension savers are invested in non-ESG funds. Most savers are unaware of how their pension savings are invested and of the impact that they can have, and approximately 97% of savers are invested in the default funds, which invariably take little account of ESG and are far from Paris aligned. Dashboards will be extremely significant as a portal for savers, investors and pensioners to know what is happening to their money, and it is therefore important that they have a full range of information on these issues.
Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has tabled Amendments 67A and 67B in this area, and I support them.
My last set of amendments—Amendments 74, 75, 76 and 92—is aimed at enhancing and strengthening government Amendment 73. I pay tribute to the Minister for instant action. The original Bill made no mention of climate risk, and it was pleasing to see that the Government issued this amendment to insert a new clause to ensure that there will be secondary legislation to create an oversight, disclosure and compliance regime, in line with the TCFD recommendations, for occupational pension schemes in relation to climate risk. However, the Minister will not be surprised that, having given something and opened the door, I will try to push it a little further.
At the moment, Amendment 73 relates to occupational pension schemes. Amendments 74 and 76 cover all pension schemes. I would be grateful to know from the Minister the number of people who would be excluded under the Government’s amendment rather than my amendments, which would include everybody, and the rationale for excluding those people.
Amendment 75 is important, as it would ensure that the proposed regime imposes requirements on trustees or scheme managers to ensure that schemes are aligned with the objectives of the Paris agreement to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 degrees. I think we all know by now that what we are talking about is 1.5 degrees. The UK has set itself a clear target; we have COP 26 this year; and we are aiming to be a beacon of achievement in many areas. This is one area where we could shine as that beacon. Not to align the pensions industry with the Government’s overall objectives is to miss an opportunity.
Lastly, my Amendment 92 seeks to ensure that there is a clearer timetable for consulting on the implementation of TCFD recommendations. We now have a clear timetable in statute by which we must reach net zero, so we need a correspondingly clear timetable for aligning the finance sector with the Paris objectives. We, and others such as ShareAction, believe that new regulations can and should be introduced by next year, so my amendment would set a timetable both for the commencement of the consultation and for the Government’s report on the results of that consultation.
There are other amendments in this group aimed at the same objectives. I will be interested to hear what other members of the Committee have to say and the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Hayman, for their powerful, comprehensive introductions to this group. I shall try not to repeat what they said, which covered much of the ground that I would have covered. I shall speak specifically to Amendments 36, 67A, 67B and 97, which are tabled in my name, and to Amendment 52, to which I have attached my name. Just to make life even simpler for novice amenders like me, Amendments 67A and 67B were previously Amendments 55 and 56. For simplicity for anyone who is looking at the old paperwork, Amendment 55, now Amendment 67A, refers to environmental and social governance, and Amendment 56, now Amendment 67B, asks for the views of beneficiaries to be taken into account. I hope that makes things clearer.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said that she believes people believe in the climate change crisis. I would go somewhat further and say that I know there is a climate emergency and I think the world knows there is a climate emergency and has acknowledged that through international declarations. I also stress the point that both noble Baronesses referred to previously: that as host of COP26, we have a particular responsibility to lead the world this year in measures such as this.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, Amendment 36 essentially mirrors Amendment 28. The drafting is different, as is the insertion point. I will leave it to those who know a great deal more about legal details than I do to work out which might be preferable. However, proposed new subsection (6B) goes further, because as well as having a statement of investment principles—principles are great, but what matters is what is actually happening—it requires the most recent version of the implementation statement, which states how the SIP is being implemented, and the most recent version of the statement of the chair, who is accountable for what is happening. Will the Minister consider this as a possibility?
Amendment 67A covers much the same ground as Amendment 52, which was focused on the climate emergency, but goes further by talking about environmental, social and governance factors. I am not sure how many noble Lords were at the Fairtrade Fortnight event down the corridor, but I am sure it was not just the really delicious tea, coffee and hot chocolate that produced a packed room. There is grave concern about poverty, hunger, access to education and the situation of women and girls around the world, and the way in which investment can make a difference. This amendment seeks to ensure knowledge about what people’s money is doing to address those issues; it is broader than looking at just the climate emergency.
Further to that, the world is having a major conference on biodiversity and addressing the nature crisis, the accompanying crisis to climate change. We cannot afford to simply look at the climate emergency on its own. We have to look at the broader framework. The world is doing this through the globally agreed framework of the sustainable development goals. ESG is a way of asking whether we are addressing those goals. People will have the choice; as other noble Baronesses have said, we are not mandating what happens but trying to ensure that people have a choice and know where their money goes.
Amendment 67B closely relates to Amendment 92. There is rightly a lot of focus these days on transparency in decision-making and how people know that decisions are made. I quote the Pensions Minister, who said that pension schemes,
“ought to be thinking about the assets which help drive new investment in important sectors of the economy … which deliver the sustainable employment, communities and environments which all of us wish to enjoy”.
However, I refer back to the advice from the Law Commission to trustees that they,
“may not impose their own ethical views on their beneficiaries”.
I would argue that the legislation as currently drafted puts trustees in a difficult position, because they are not allowed to impose their own views but there is no mechanism directing where the choices should be made from. If we provide a mechanism by which schemes are directed to consult their beneficiaries, that will provide the guidance that the trustees need.
We seem to have been going for a very long while. I hope that this covers the main points of the amendment I have put forward. I look forward to the contributions from others who have put forward amendments, and to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I want to point out that Amendment 28 is important because members of pension schemes do not generally have much knowledge or understanding of how their assets are invested and managed. This clause places a reporting duty on the Pensions Regulator to publish statements of investment principles under Section 35 of the Pensions Act. The amendment would also place a requirement on the Pensions Regulator to create an SIPP repository, accessible to the public through its website, so that all scheme members could check their scheme’s investment strategy.
It will be interesting to see how investment strategies are described. I think that it will be necessary for them to be described in a way that is readily understandable by all citizens.
My Lords, my Amendment 89 relates to the occupational pension schemes regulations in the statement of investment principles. Again, it is about compliance with the Paris Agreement, particularly to hold the global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees centigrade. Other amendments in the group seek compliance in this area.
It is clearly very important to protect the interests of savers and the economy. I am grateful to the Minister for her amendments on climate change risk, her speedy response and her awareness of issues arising in this area. I have also supported Amendments 75 and 92. I certainly support Amendment 28 from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, on the register and publication of the SIPPs from all pension schemes, and understand the administrative problems of smaller ones.
As we have heard from others, the size of the pension fund is hugely influential, particularly in transforming the economy into a green economy. I believe that pension schemes have had enormous effects in other areas. My own recollection is of South Africa, where schemes exerted very strong influence. In my city of Bristol, when creating a smoke-free city, we sought to get the pension schemes and their investors to support it. This can be a very powerful instrument in changing behaviour and thinking; I hope that it will be.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned that her amendments extend to all pension schemes. Again, I am not clear what the differences are. I note that the briefing from the ABI suggests that the PRA and the FCA are better placed to deal with the smaller pension schemes, but I would like to hear the views of the Minister on this. I very much support the spirit and content of most of the amendments in this group.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 52, 74, 75, 76 and 92 to which I have added my name. As the noble Baronesses have said, these amendments refer to the need to strengthen the obligations on pension funds to play their part in meeting the challenge of the climate emergency. We accept that the issue goes wider than this Bill, but we will succeed only if every part of government, including the DWP, industry and the economy play their part, so this pensions Bill does have a part to play.
In relation to pensions, it is vital that a consistent approach is taken across the pension scheme market with the DWP, the Pensions Regulator and the Financial Conduct Authority all requiring contract-based pension schemes and trust-based occupational schemes to demonstrate the same levels of compliance with our climate change objectives; otherwise, there could be adverse competition between the different funds, which we do not support.
I add my thanks to the Minister for acknowledging the importance of these issues when we raised them at Second Reading, arranging to meet us to discuss them further and tabling the Government’s amendment today. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, it happened very quickly, and we were very impressed by that. It is fair to say that it is a start, but we do not think that it goes far enough. However, I am sure that we will have a good dialogue on this issue. In the meantime, we have tabled amendments.
I shall be brief as I do not want to echo what other noble Lords have said. Amendments 74 and 76 take out the specific reference to occupational pension schemes so that the requirement would apply to all pension schemes. This is important because, although occupational defined benefit and defined contribution schemes comprise a large part of the pensions market, there is a gradual shift taking place towards contract-based personal schemes. As one model is regulated by the Pensions Regulator and the other by the Financial Conduct Authority, it is vital that we take this opportunity to provide alignment and consistency on the climate change action that they require across that sector.
In the Minister’s helpful letter to Peers explaining the purpose of the government amendments, it did not seem to me that she addressed this lack of consistency. Perhaps she can do that now. Does she accept the need for a joint approach across the regulators to ensure that investment decisions have parity, so that one cannot take advantage of the other or lead to the detriment of members by requiring higher standards of one than another?
Secondly, our Amendment 75 explicitly spells out that the Government’s reference to climate change means the need to align with the objectives of the Paris agreement to hold temperature rises well below 2 degrees centigrade. It is important to have that wording in there because we bandy around the expression “climate change” but it means different things to different people, and we are concerned that it could otherwise be loosely interpreted. That is why we set out a more explicit requirement. We set out the reasons for that requirement at Second Reading. As other noble Lords have said, we are currently on track for 2 to 4 degrees centigrade of global warming by the end of the 21st century, and we know that that will have a profoundly negative impact on the global economy and therefore upon the investments and the financial returns of pension schemes. So it is important that we have a requirement to deliver our Paris agreement commitments. It is not just about us being fluffy and caring about the planet; it is a more hard-nosed issue about the direct interests of savers and our economy. That is why pension funds have such critical role to play. I hope that the Minister will accept the intent and the importance of that amendment.
Thirdly, I was pleased to add my name to Amendment 92, which provides a timescale for the consultation on implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. It requires that the consultation will commence within one month and be completed within one year. Obviously we welcome the Government’s intention to consult widely on this issue, and we understand some of the complexities that lie behind all that, but meanwhile the clock is ticking on our Paris commitments and we are failing to step up to the mark on that, so this is one of the many areas where we need to take urgent action but also where we could deliver the biggest impact. I hope that the Minister understands and accepts the need for that consultation and follow-up to take place within a specific timeframe.
Finally, our Amendment 52 returns to the issue that we raised at Second Reading about the need to inform pension savers via the dashboard of the actions being taken by their trustees to deliver on climate change as set out in the UK Stewardship Code 2020 and to align with the Paris agreement. This amendment would add these factors as information that may be required to be provided by regulation. I know that at Second Reading there was some argument—maybe there will be again today—about the information on the dashboard needing to be kept simple in the first instance. We understand that issue, but we also have to acknowledge, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman said, that pension savers are concerned about their pension funds propping up fossil fuel extraction, and they are keen to have information so that they can be empowered to take action on these issues. Our amendment has been tabled to explore how best we can achieve that by providing information in a simple and meaningful way to pension savers.
I hope that the Minister will agree that savers need to have access to this information and that the dashboard could be a meaningful way of achieving that objective. I look forward to her response.
I would like to say one sentence about this. First, could the Minister comment on this situation? I do not have a big role in pensions but in so far as I have, I have been pushing people towards index trackers. An index tracker that conforms to the UN principles for responsible investment is generally accepted. However, at the moment the UN principles do not contain climate change, so to what extent are we putting forward something which would be difficult to implement? Secondly, I wonder whether we are suggesting something which, far from being implemented by the trustees, will be implemented by means of companies, such as one or two I have come across in my life, which will go to trustees and say, “Here you are; for just £500 we can give you a statement of principles which will get you past the regulator”. There is a sense in which we might not be curing a problem at all but creating it, certainly for small pension funds that are largely invested in index trackers and bonds. Even bonds have their problems. In a pension fund where I was once a trustee when I said, “We will probably buy some UK Government bonds”, a member said, “Oh yes, Mr Blair needs the money to bomb Iraq, doesn’t he?”
My Lords, I do not think I will start at that point.
I will not add much. I had a lovely speech prepared, but it was much less good than some of the speeches we have heard already. Let me simply say that I am grateful to all noble Lords who have put this issue on the agenda. Like them, I am particularly delighted that the Minister was listening so carefully to my noble friend Lady Jones, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others at Second Reading. If that is what could happen over Second Reading, just think what will happen by Report, after all we have done here today. I am very excited indeed at this new responsive Government: hurrah!
I want to add just a couple of things. I hope we all now recognise that there is no way that the Government are going to hit the 2050 target, never mind Paris, without pension schemes stepping up and playing their part. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, I know it is difficult, but there is quite a lot of good thinking going on out there. I commend to him work done by the Church of England Pensions Board, which has recently developed an index, made available specially to enable funds—it is putting its own money where its mouth is—to do compatible things. I can talk to him about it afterwards. I should declare an interest: I am a Church of England priest, but my knowledge of pensions in the Church of England stops there, because I do not pay into any. There are things that can be done.
I am particularly conscious that people want to know this information. It will increasingly be the case: if we want more people to save, young people in particular will want to know where their money is going. The Government will have to find some way to address that. I will come on to talk about the dashboard, but I should be interested to know if MaPS is beginning to think about this. Is this in its consideration?
I should also be interested to know from the Minister about the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady Jones to the government amendment, which raise interesting points. Is there a reason why the Government feel that they cannot apply them to all pension schemes and are they amenable to a stiffening around Paris, as opposed to generic climate change? If she could address both those questions, that would be helpful.
I should also be interested in her response to an amendment which is pushing a sense of urgency on the timescale of the task force on climate-related financial disclosures. It would be very helpful to get a sense of where the Government are going on that. It does not seem a hard ask: to run a consultation, soon after commencement, on implementing the recommendations of a task force coming back within a year would seem to be one of the easier concessions that the Minister has been asked to make, so perhaps she may look with a smile on that too.
I thank all noble Lords for their amendments and contributions. They have been numerous, but they have been numerous in quality, so I thank them for that. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the whole Committee that we are listening and aim to please.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. In responding, I will first address the three government amendments and then the others in the group. The Government are clear that action needs to be taken to address the risks that climate change brings. The Government announced in the Green Finance Strategy, published last July, that all large asset owners, including occupational pension schemes, would be expected to report on how they address climate change risk, in line with the international, industry-led task force on climate-related financial disclosure, by 2022.
Building on that expectation, the Government are now, through new Clauses 73, 81 and 98, seeking to take powers to require occupational pension schemes to manage the effects of climate change effectively as a financial risk to their investments and to report publicly on how they have done so. New Section 41A inserted into the Pensions Act 1995 confers powers on the Secretary of State to impose requirements on occupational pension scheme trustees and managers to secure effective governance on the effect of climate change on the scheme.
Let me be clear. This does not mean that it is for the Government to direct schemes or set their investment strategies. The Government never have directed pension scheme investment, and do not intend to. Our clear view is that the amendments do not permit us to do that. Amendments 74 and 76, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Jones, would amend the new clauses, expanding the remit of these powers and those under new Section 41B beyond occupational pension schemes to include personal pension schemes. Personal pension schemes are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, not the Pensions Regulator. To place requirements on personal pension providers through the Bill would create a patchwork of overlapping regulatory oversight, under which providers would have to respond to two separate regulators on the same activity.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised occupational schemes. The FCA is currently considering how best to enhance climate-related disclosures by workplace personal pension schemes. The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, also referenced personal pensions.
Turning back to the government amendment, the Government believe it is absolutely necessary that trustees act within their fiduciary duty to protect members’ benefits against the growing physical risks of climate change and the risks of the transition to a lower-carbon economy. However, action taken by trustees and managers should not be limited to avoiding risk but should involve consideration of the investment opportunities that climate change presents, as new Section 41A(2) makes clear.
New Section 41A(3) sets out the kinds of activities trustees and managers of pension schemes may be required to undertake as part of their governance on the effects of climate change. Where such requirements are introduced, our intention is that trustees or managers are doing the determination, review and revision of strategies and targets. It is not a matter for the Government. We will consult on the exact requirements, the timings for introducing them and the scheme in scope.
New Clause 92 seeks to bind the Secretary of State to a specific timeline for launching this consultation and publishing the response. I am very grateful to noble Lords for their compliments about the speed of our action on climate change; I must tell your Lordships that our Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey and Minister for Pensions Guy Opperman are 110% behind this. It was their action, not mine, that put this into the Bill, so I cannot take credit for something I did not do; they deserve all the credit for that. I understand the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that we should push further. As my great friend William Booth would have said, that and better will do. I understand the point she is making.
I assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Jones, in response to their amendment, that the Government intend to launch their consultation on the task force recommendations upon the Bill completing its passage through Parliament, and to respond within a year.
Amendments 52 and 75 and new Clause 89 specifically identify alignment with the Paris Agreement as one of the risk-assessment activities which schemes should be doing. Our view is that the industry is not quite ready for this sizeable step in reporting requirements. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised global warming. Amendment 75 goes further than reporting on alignment to require governance of schemes to align with the Paris Agreement’s objective of global warming of well under 2 degrees Celsius. This would be tantamount to directing schemes’ investments, which the Government have already ruled out. The Government are seeking to ensure effective governance of climate change risk, not to direct trustees’ or managers’ investments.
However, new Section 41A(4) in Amendment 73, taken with new Section 41B, would enable the Government to prescribe reporting on Paris alignment, requiring schemes to consider their alignment with Paris in relation to risk and exposure and to make this information public. At present, there is little consensus on methodologies for reporting on Paris alignment. This area is developing very quickly, which is why the Government are seeking powers to prescribe such reporting in future. We will continue to monitor the development of methodologies and data in the industry, and would put any future proposals on this issue to consultation.
The Government believe that schemes should be doing effective governance, as new Section 41A will allow us to require, and that schemes should publish this information as set out in the task force recommendations. New Section 41B would enable the Government to lay regulations to require this information to be made public, free of charge, including to members.
New Clause 89 would require some of this information on Paris Agreement alignment to feature in the scheme’s published statement of investment principles, or SIP. However, should the amendment be accepted, this would pre-empt the outcome of the consultation. In contrast, new Section 41B of the Government’s amendment takes powers which would enable the Government to introduce publication requirements relating to the degree of Paris Agreement alignment at a later date.
When disclosing information and documents, subsection (3) of new Section 41B in the Government’s amendment requires trustees and managers to have regard to statutory guidance which the department will publish. In requiring schemes to follow this guidance, consistency and comparability across reporting by different schemes will be easier to achieve. Other benefits of publication are ensuring that best practice is shared across the industry and that trustees and managers can learn from those with the most advance climate risk governance.
Amendments 28 and 36 seek to achieve a similar objective by granting the regulator the responsibility to create a repository of statements of investment principles and forcing schemes to provide their SIPs, as well as sections of annual statements, to the regulator. The Government were concerned by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association’s recent research, which showed widespread non-compliance in publishing SIPs. We have urged UKSIF to pass its findings to the regulator, so that it can take swift action. We believe a central repository has a part to play in that, but Amendment 28 does not take into account the growing concentration of the vast majority of members in a small number of schemes. Of more than 5,000 defined benefit schemes, the largest 200 schemes have more than 60% of members. Of more than 3,000 defined contribution schemes, the largest 150 have more than 96% of members. For these members, their own scheme’s website or public pages are the natural places to look for investment information, not a corner of the Pensions Regulator’s website.
Similarly, in relation to Amendment 36, the regulator has already placed the largest schemes under one-to-one supervision and has regular sight of the all the documents referred to. In any event, Amendments 28 and 36 are unnecessary, as I can report that officials at the DWP and the Pensions Regulator have already begun work to identify how a central index of SIPs can be produced. Amendment 97 seeks to put a duty on trustees to consult members each time they review their SIP. However, this imposes unreasonable burdens on trustees. The Law Commission has confirmed in two reviews that trustees are not required to take account of members’ views, although in some circumstances they can. It would be unhelpful to require trustees to solicit member preferences which they had no ability or intention to take into account. Amendments 52, 67A and 67B seek to include information on Paris alignment reporting and consideration of ESG in the pensions dashboard.
We will turn to the dashboard later in Committee, but it is important to highlight here—
I am so sorry to interrupt my noble friend. First, I want to draw the Committee’s attention to my interests as set out in the register in connection with pensions, and to the fact that my son works on sustainable transport and reducing transport emissions. Will the Minister write to members of the Committee about the regulator’s plans for creating a central repository? Will it be comprehensive? If DWP and the Pensions Regulator are working on setting this up anyway, would it do any harm to have this measure in the Bill to make sure that it happens?
Of course we will be happy to write to answer the questions that my noble friend has raised.
There is a lot of detail in what the Minister has said and I am very grateful to her for saying that she will look at it. I think she said that the Financial Conduct Authority is considering the requirements to be put on personal pension schemes; that is, those not covered by the government amendment and the regulations. The Minister was very helpful about the timetable of the consultation on the Government’s proposal on occupational schemes. Is there any timetable for personal pension scheme requirements? Is it the Government’s ambition that they should parallel the requirements in the Bill?
I am advised that we need to get that information from the FCA; when we do, we will give it to all members of the Committee. I hope that that is acceptable.
I apologise, but this seems to be the logical point at which to do this. I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and request to also get a copy of that. Further to that, if there are already plans to have a central index of SIPPs and that system already exists, including the implementation and chair statements would surely be a very small administrative burden. Could the Minister consider whether that is possible? She can answer now or in the future.
Can I answer the noble Baroness’s question when I come to the specifics that have been asked? If I get to the end and have not answered, I have no doubt that she will let me know.
We will turn to dashboards later in Committee. However, it is important to highlight here that the Government want to ensure that information on dashboard services can be easily comprehensible to consumers. For this reason, dashboards should start with simple information. We remain interested in finding out whether dashboards can support an increase in engagement on issues, including the investment decisions made by schemes.
Moreover, new paragraph (c)(i), which would be inserted by Amendment 52, would not only duplicate the intent of the Government’s new clauses but would also duplicate existing duties that the Government have already placed on trustees. Amendment 67A would have a corresponding effect on workplace personal pension schemes, for which the FCA has also legislated to take account of such factors. Both these sets of requirements are mandatory, unlike the voluntary UK stewardship code referenced in this amendment.
Amendment 67B would enable the dashboard to include information on how schemes take into account members’ interests. Notwithstanding earlier arguments for keeping the dashboard simple at first, occupational schemes already have duties to report on the extent to which they take account of members’ views in investment decisions.
The final new section in the Government’s amendment, new Section 41C, confers powers on the Secretary of State to lay regulations ensuring that managers and trustees of occupational pension schemes comply with requirements in regulations laid under powers delegated by new Sections 41A and 41B. In particular, regulations may allow the Pensions Regulator to issue compliance notices, third party compliance notices and penalty notices. The provisions in new Section 41C are consistent with similar compliance provisions relating to pension schemes in paragraph 3 of Schedule 18 to the Pensions Act 2014.
New Section 41C and indeed 41A are subject to the affirmative procedure at first use only. The first regulations made in exercise of the powers in these sections will confer enforcement powers on the regulator and place new requirements on trustees or managers. The Government therefore consider that they should be subject to a higher level of scrutiny. However, the Government expect any subsequent use of the powers to be for the purpose of periodically amending these requirements to ensure that they reflect developments. We therefore believe that the negative procedure beyond first use is appropriate. The consultation requirements in Section 120 of the Pensions Act 1995, into which these new sections are proposed to be inserted, would also apply.
Delegated powers to set out these requirements in secondary legislation are essential to ensure that the requirements can take account of developing operational and financial best practice and are proportionate to the scheme in question. It also ensures that they reflect the rapidly developing understanding of the effects of climate change and its interaction with the financial system. Furthermore, the urgency of action required to address the climate emergency demands a swift policy response now and in the future.
All the Government’s new clauses also make provision for Northern Ireland that is equivalent to the provision that would be made by the Government’s amendments. This would ensure that, in accordance with the long-standing principle of parity, the single system of pensions across the UK is maintained. As such, the arguments made in relation to the proposed amendments to the Pensions Act 1995 apply equally to the amendments proposed to the Pensions (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, inserting a new paragraph into Schedule 11.
The government amendments and their associated powers are as urgent as they are important. Climate change is a major risk to the nation’s pension savings. It is appropriate and responsible for the Government to require those who have a duty to deliver members’ retirement income to safeguard investments against climate risk and publish information on how they have done so.
I come to some of the specific questions raised—
I am sorry to interrupt but this is specifically on the government amendments. Like others, I welcome what is there and I hear the Minister referring to the matter as urgent and important. I just come up against a block when I see that it says “Regulations may impose”. Why can we not have “must” if there is an intention that these things are to be done? From the particular point of view of justice, in new Sections 41C and 41D, the reference to what would be your right of appeal to a tribunal still comes under “may”. I know that it is a standard formulation but it really does not appear to be right, because nothing is actually promised when it says “may”. Why can we not have “must”, and certainly have “must” when it comes to defences and reference to tribunals?
In answer to the noble Baroness, subject to the passage of the Bill we will consult extensively this summer on the content of new regulations, which will likely include the content of these new requirements and the timing thereof. When we lay regulations and when they come into force will depend upon the outcome of the consultation, but we will respond to that within a year of its launch.
That still does not mean that something will definitely happen then. I understand that the regulations’ shape depends upon the consultation but they should be regulations that do something, with a promise that we are going to have them—that there will be some, not that there “may”.
As I understand it, we have to consult before we can make that decision.
Could I join in on this? We are talking about Amendment 73, which would insert new Section 41A on “Climate change risk”. Its first proposed subsection says “Regulations may impose requirements”; it does not specify any requirements in that part because, as the Minister rightly says, they are all to be consulted on later. But it is odd that it should say “may” and not “must” since it talks about imposing requirements. In practice it means that the Government need not do anything at all, which is unfortunate.
Exactly the same comment applies to new Section 41C, headed “Sections 41A and 41B: compliance”. It begins “Regulations may make provision” and underneath that is a long list of things that will eventually turn out to be regulations and will be consulted on. I understand that “may” is appropriate there but, as it stands, the Government do not have to do anything at all about this as long as the word “may” remains as it is in both those initial paragraphs. I re-emphasise the point made by my noble friend Lady Bowles: leaving the provision of an appeal mechanism to “may” might not be a very good idea.
I do not know whether the noble Lord has put his name on the list to meet, but it looks as though I am able to offer him a meeting on the consultation first, if that is helpful, to try to get to where he wants to be.
Going back to the point raised by my noble friend Lady Altmann about schemes not having a website, schemes are not required to set up a website to publish their statement of investment principles or other documents. The information must be published on a publicly available website in a manner which allows for the content to be indexed by internet search engines. This can include a social media site, a blogging platform or a repository offered by a search engine provider, as long as trustees have ensured that the document is public and can be indexed. The Government are not in the business of endorsing publishing tools, but Facebook, WordPress and Google Docs allow for free publication.
Coming on to my noble friend Lady Altmann’s point about what is meant by a large scheme, following the passage of the Bill, we will consult extensively in the summer on what schemes should be in scope and how the scope will increase over time. My noble friend also said that the Pensions Regulator is not doing anything about breaches of ESG legislation. The chief executive of the Pensions Regulator has written to DWP to confirm that it is taking action. The regulator has engaged with the findings of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association on the poor state of compliance among some pension schemes and will follow up on breaches of compliance.
My noble friend Lady Altmann also said that pension schemes should be required to align their portfolios with the Paris Agreement to reach net zero by 2050. The Government’s amendment and subsequent regulations will focus on schemes’ governance of climate risk and disclosure of that risk. We do not wish to direct pension schemes to align their investments with the Paris Agreement targets, and the legislation does not allow us to do so. Nevertheless, Paris alignment reporting could be useful as a measure of climate-related risk to the scheme. We will consult over the longer term on whether it is a useful assessment of a scheme’s exposure and risk.
I have already come clean to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on whom to credit for the speedy inclusion of the amendments. She also raised a point about taking account of members’ views. The Law Commission has found that pension schemes have a fiduciary duty to take account of all financially material risks, including environmental risks. We have legislated to require all schemes with 100 members to publish their policies on financially material environmental risks, including climate change, and defined contribution schemes will be required to report annually on how they manage those risks from October 2020.
Trustees do not have a duty to take account of members’ ethical concerns but are free to do so when they believe a majority of members who express a view share those concerns and when doing so would not result in significant member detriment. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked why we will not legislate for personal pension schemes. Personal pension schemes are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, not the Pensions Regulator. To place requirements on personal pension providers through this legislation would create a patchwork of overlapping regulatory oversight under which providers would have to respond to two separate regulators on the same activity. The FCA is currently considering how best to enhance climate-related disclosures by workplace personal pension schemes, building on its existing rules framework and enforcement powers. I will write on the number of members of personal pension schemes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked whether dashboards will include pension schemes’ environmental, social and governance policies. We are very interested in how dashboards can support and increase engagement, including whether information on areas such as ESG, which trustees are required to cover as part of their disclosure obligations, may be incorporated into the dashboards. This is to be informed by user testing and may evolve over time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, quoted the Minister for Pensions, who wrote,
“pension schemes ought to be thinking about the assets which help … drive new investment in important sectors of the economy … which deliver the sustainable employment, communities and environments which all of us wish to enjoy.”
How will we meet this if the scheme does not know members’ wishes? The Government have been very clear that the purpose of a pension scheme trust is to deliver an appropriate return to its beneficiaries. The context of the Minister’s quote makes this clear and that it is possible to deliver this while having a beneficial effect on the communities in which they invest. The noble Baroness also talked about the implementation and chair statements being published. Schemes are already required to publish their chair’s statement and implementation statement. We are working closely with the regulator to develop a central index that can also be applied to the implementation statement and the chair’s statement.
Finally on the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, about pension schemes being required to go beyond climate change to consider sustainability more broadly, trustees already have clarity that they should take account of financially material social and environmental risk in investment policies. This includes, for example, considering violations of human rights laws and destructive environmental practices. In practice, most trustees do not actively manage investments and cannot make stock selections, but the Government have set the requirement for a clear policy which will be published and shared with those managing the investments. As I have said before, the Government do not tell pension schemes how to invest. Seeking to do that would force trustees to chose between acting in the best interests of members and following government directions.
I hope I have answered all noble Lords’ questions and therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and urge noble Lords to support the amendments standing in my name.
I thank my noble friend for her comprehensive response. I think she can tell from the comments that we would be grateful for some follow-up conversations. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Debate on whether Clause 110 should stand part of the Bill.
Compared with the very interesting debate we have just had on these important amendments, what I have to say regarding the stand-part element of Clause 110 is probably rather insignificant in many minds. On Second Reading, I raised with the Minister the question of the nature of the regulator’s responsibilities, particularly in relation to the process of interview. I am concerned about Clause 110(4), where there is a situation concerning an individual summoned for interview by the regulator failing to answer a question or to provide an explanation that satisfied the regulator. That comes in new Section 72A of the Pensions Act 2004.
I am concerned because, as far as I am aware, an explanation is defined as a statement or account that makes something clear, but there is a massive amount of subjectivity and responsibility on the regulator’s shoulders in concluding whether that explanation is satisfactory. With the sanctions in place—ultimately a criminal sanction, but also civil sanctions—it seems a very serious area and one in which the basic right of individuals not to self-incriminate, for instance, or even providing some information can result in a more serious effect than anticipated.
I want to defend the regulator here because some remarks have been made during the debate on these amendments suggesting that the regulator needs thoroughly investigating. We are putting upon the regulator a whole lot of new responsibilities, partly in the area I am talking about—decision-making on subjective matters—but also in the overall workload, which I am concerned about.
I was just looking at the impact assessment of the Pension Schemes Bill 2020. In relation to the matters I am talking about, it suggests, for instance, that the impact on the government side of this—the changes that might be made to the requirements for the regulator or the regulator’s ability to pursue these matters—is “broadly cost neutral”. I suggest that this is not a fair appraisal because the extra responsibility placed on the regulator, and the way in which that becomes controversial from time to time, is bound to be costly. It will cost money, and the regulator therefore needs to be resourced adequately to be able to deal with that and other responsibilities we are placing on it.
Similarly, the extra obligations on those who are being interviewed or are required to comply with these things are not inconsiderable. There will be costs for those businesses that are already having to find considerable resources to deal with matters where the regulator has the powers to intervene. Therefore—perhaps my noble friend would consider this—I suggest that it would be very useful if, when this legislation is passed, the regulator is taken fully into account in terms of the resource. Just as importantly, it would be very useful if the regulator had thorough and better guidance compared to the present guidance about how to handle these circumstances and how these subjective requirements should be dealt with. That is enormously important. It is not part of the legislation as such but I think that the regulator is entitled not to be so liable for its judgments. Also, more guidance should be available to it so that it does not find itself in an unfair and unreasonable position in making these powers work.
That is all that I want to say to my noble friend at this point. I did so at Second Reading and have spoken to her subsequently. Although this issue is not as important as some of the amendments, it is significant in terms of the obligations on the regulator and on those who fall under these regulations.
I thank my noble friend for that contribution, which is equally as important as the amendments. The regulator will update its current compliance enforcement policy in due course and that will include how it conducts interviews under this clause. We will discuss the impact assessment at a later stage, and I suggest that we address the specific issues that my noble friend has raised at that point. I hope that he is happy to proceed on that basis.
Clause 110 agreed.
Clause 111 agreed.
Clause 112: Fixed penalty notices and escalating penalty notices
29: Clause 112, page 99, line 7, leave out “£50,000” and insert “£1 million”
My Lords, I shall be very brief. Amendments 29, 30 and 32 in my name are all probing. Their purpose is to allow discussion of the reasoning behind the choice of penalties written into Clauses 112 and 115. In each case, I would be interested to know two things: what comparisons, if any, did the Government make in deciding on the penalty amounts, and what was done to assess the likely effectiveness of these amounts? In other words, are the upper limits really large enough to influence behaviour, and what has convinced the Government that they are?
At Second Reading, I noted that the Government seem uncertain about the merit of the £1 million upper limit contained in new Section 88A, inserted into the Pensions Act 2004 by Clause 115. Subsection (2) of new Section 88A is where this £1 million is set, but the very next subsection allows for secondary legislation to change this upwards without limit. As far as I can tell, this power to adjust upwards by regulation does not apply to the penalty upper limits in Clause 112, and I think that that deserves an explanation. Why are the Government confident that they will not need to change upwards the lesser penalties in Clause 112 but feel that they might have to do so for the major penalty in Clause 115? Surely it is not wise to allow unlimited power to raise penalty levels by regulation.
The Government implicitly acknowledge that that is the case by setting limits on the face of the Bill. Then they do a reverse ferret by giving themselves unlimited discretion to revise upwards in one case. I can see why the Government might lack confidence in the proposed £1 million limit, given the resources of those upon whom the penalty might fall, but surely it would be better to have in the Bill a limit that we think might work, or at least a limit on how far the initial amount may be raised or a proportional system, as proposed by the amendment of my noble friend Lady Bowles.
In any event, it would be very helpful to know how the Government alighted on all these upper bounds, especially the £1 million limit, and especially as they all seem intuitively to be rather on the low side. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group—Amendment 31 is my own. The broad principle is not to let the fines simply be a cost of doing business for the wealthy and especially large companies. Inevitably, large fines give rise to concern among those who would be the bottom end of any range of fines, with respect both to the seriousness of their offence and their resources. It is clear that proportionality is key—proportionality both to the severity of the offence and the resources of the offender. The fine must also be a sufficient deterrent, not just a cost of doing business.
It does not seem to be customary to recite proportionality in legislation, as it is presumed. For my part, I would not see it as damaging to include wording on proportionality, and anyway it would always be part of any appeal. That is why, in Amendment 31, I changed the new Section 88A fine from “£1 million” to
“twice the employer’s pension deficit or 4% of the employer’s annual global turnover (whichever is greater)”.
The fines may not be these amounts; they are the maximums. These fines can be for egregious matters that put pension funds at risk—and, therefore, the livelihood and well-being of pensioners and future pensioners—and potentially impose on taxpayers. They are fines for being a social pestilence.
I thought that the size of the deficit was relevant—maybe I should have made it three times the size, because my inspiration was US-style triple damages that can apply for monstrous offences. I have made it clear that I think doing bad things to pensions is pretty monstrous.
Turnover-linked criteria are also not new. They are in use in the UK, having been recently introduced for the Information Commissioner; that is what I have copied. They have, of course, been in play for some time for competition offences. The Information Commissioner penalties also have a numerical option, although again that is not limited to the turnover side of the penalty. I left out the number in my amendment to emphasis the proportionality point, but I would have no problem adding in the amendment of my noble friend Lord Sharkey so that we have a numerical measure in there as well.
It would seem from something that was said to me—in one of the meetings, I think—that the £1 million fine level was inspired by “similar fine provisions” by the FCA. Well, I can suggest several responses to that. First, the FCA may be the one out of line with modern thinking, the fine having been set a while ago. Also, it has perhaps been undermined because it always has to do consultations and, strangely, has to consult those who might be fined. But, as a matter of consultation, I note that the ABI has supported my amendment.
My Lords, these amendments offer a good opportunity to explore whether the penalties in the Bill are of the right kind and scale. I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to set out the thinking behind the decisions that the Government have reached. I read the DWP policy brief for the Bill; it says that, in developing the new sanctions, the main priority had been getting the right balance between increased deterrents and protection for members, minimising any negative impacts on industry, and ensuring that the new sanctions are in line with the wider statute book. So one of the questions is: has it done that?
The first question, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, is: are the penalties set at the right place and why are they set at that place? What is the argument —why £50,000 and not £100,000? Why £l million and not £10 million or £50 million? Was this done to mirror provisions elsewhere? If so, which ones? If not, what work—what modelling—was done to lead Ministers to believe that they have landed in the right place?
Interestingly, the policy brief then says that the DWP considered the level when establishing the new penalty of up to £1 million. It says that the level had to be proportionate for local individuals and businesses of different wealth levels and appropriate for a wide range of behaviours, provide a stronger deterrent than the current regime and work alongside the new criminal offences for non-compliance, under which an unlimited fine can be issued. I need the Minister to help me here because this is not my area of expertise: if the maximum fine is £1 million, why does the maximum fine have to take account of a wide range of behaviours and wealth of individuals or businesses? Presumably, the maximum fine applies only to the people at the top of the scale, either those who have the most money or have done the worst thing. How does that balance work in setting a maximum fine? There may be a really good reason—maybe you have to be proportionate; I do not know—but could she explain it to me?
Secondly, the brief said that in choosing the level the DWP decided that it should be in line with the average penalties issued by the FCA against individuals, whereas I think these fines are going to be issued against individuals and businesses. The policy brief says that, if you exclude one extreme case, the average FCA penalty since 2016-17 was less than £1 million. I assume that the extreme case, whatever it was, was above £1 million. What if there is another extreme case? Even if we ignore the extreme case, if the average of the rest was below £1 million then was any of them above £1 million? After all, if they averaged below £1 million, maybe one of them was higher and others were lower. I just wonder why the Government are so confident that the cases coming up now would not go above that ceiling. Even the ABI, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, said, has said that the proposed cap of just £1 million on fines is unlikely to be an effective deterrent for employers who can easily afford this. It recommended that the fines should reflect the savings made by the sponsor by wilfully acting to the detriment of scheme members.
That brings me to the second question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles: why a fixed maximum penalty rather than one that relates to the circumstances of the case—that is, the turnover, the deficit or some other relevant factor? Again, the DWP policy brief explains this. It says that the department followed the FCA in terms of penalty levels but that adopting a similar approach to the Financial Conduct Authority’s approach based on turnover was considered and discounted, and that it was deemed that providing a fixed maximum level for the new penalty provided a better balance of the considerations previously outlined.
That raises an obvious question: why did it decide that? I can see that that is what the department thought it was doing, but that does not explain why it considered and discounted it; the brief simply says that it did. Were the circumstances different enough from those in the case of the FCA to merit sticking with them in terms of levels but moving away from them in terms of the kinds of fines? Could the Minister explain that?
The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, made an interesting point about regulations and the ability to vary the maximum. I would be interested to know if there is a comparable power for HMT or HMRC to vary that. Is that something else that has been taken from a parallel elsewhere?
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, made some interesting points at Second Reading about the effect of repeated offences that appear to be small but which, if done deliberately and repeatedly, could have effects that were actually quite big, yet the penalties on them are limited and quite small. Has the Minister reflected on that at all?
I am interested in how the Government got here. I accept that in reality most of the work is not going to be done by the fines; by the time you get to fining someone, frankly, the damage is done. Most of the work will be done by the supervision and regulatory regime, and we will spend much more time on that. However, the fines play an important symbolic role in signalling how bad we think offences are. I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, if less colourfully, in thinking that people who put pension schemes at risk are doing very bad things and the Government should discourage them from so doing, so I would be grateful to hear the Minister’s explanation of how they propose to do that.
I thank noble Lords for tabling these amendments and I will do my best to answer all their questions. Clause 112 inserts new provisions for the Pensions Regulator to impose fixed and escalating civil penalties where a person has not complied with the regulator’s information-gathering powers. The level of the penalties is to be set in regulations, but the fixed penalty cannot exceed £50,000 and the rate of the escalating penalty cannot exceed £10,000 a day.
Clause 115 provides for a new financial penalty in the Pensions Act 2004 which can be issued by the Pensions Regulator, and sets the maximum amount of this financial penalty at £1 million. Amendments 29 and 30, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, seek to raise the penalty levels for both the fixed and escalating penalties. Fixed and escalating penalties are already available to the regulator for non-compliance with information-gathering provisions in connection with automatic enrolment and master trusts. We consider that it would be inconsistent and unfair to have a much higher maximum, as introduced by these amendments, for similar breaches connected to other types of pension schemes.
We have no evidence that these maximum levels are inadequate or not working. On the contrary, the regulator confirms that the current levels of fixed and escalating penalties provide an adequate deterrent in automatic enrolment: issuing a fixed penalty results in compliance in the majority of cases, with only a few cases resulting in escalating penalties. The noble Lord’s amendment would introduce a maximum fixed penalty of £1 million, but that is the maximum level of the financial penalty that the Bill is introducing for serious breaches of pension legislation—for example, deliberately giving the regulator false information, or conduct that puts members’ benefits at risk.
I know that some noble Lords feel that the financial penalty should be higher, but we believe it is set at the right level. It would not be right for the penalty for not complying with an information request to be as high as for serious breaches of pension legislation. I should also make it clear that not complying with information requests, or obstructing an inspector, is a criminal offence and will remain so, with the potential for an unlimited fine. The intention is that these fixed and escalating penalties will be imposed for less serious breaches, where the regulator thinks a civil penalty is more appropriate than a criminal prosecution. Imposing a civil penalty is likely to take less time than instituting criminal proceedings, therefore the regulator can receive the necessary information and conclude an investigation more quickly. In the 2018 consultation on the regulator’s powers, mirroring the approach for automatic enrolment and master trusts was supported by industry representatives.
Amendment 31, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Janke, and Amendment 32 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, seek to raise the maximum amount of the new financial penalty. We consulted on our proposals in 2018 and they were developed from the Green Paper consultation in 2017. The £1 million maximum penalty was supported by the majority of respondents. The £1 million penalty is positioned as a mid-level sanction, between the lower £50,000 penalty for acts of non-compliance by corporates and £5,000 by individuals and the new higher-level criminal offences for serious wrongdoing that has an unlimited fine. The £1 million maximum level was also deemed to be appropriate as it is comparable with the average level of equivalent sanctions for financial crimes in the financial sector issued to individuals by the Financial Conduct Authority.
The new financial penalty can be applied to a number of offences, and changing the maximum penalty to the levels in the noble Baronesses’ amendment would be inappropriate in the case of some of these offences. Moreover, the people who are within scope of these penalties vary. In some cases, the target of the penalty may not have any direct connection to the sponsoring employer’s company or to the scheme itself. It would therefore be difficult to justify why such a person should be liable to pay a penalty of up to a maximum of double the scheme deficit or a percentage of the employer’s turnover. In such cases, a maximum level of £1 million is more proportionate and provides clarity. The introduction of the new financial penalty in this clause was also an integral part of enabling the Pensions Regulator to take action more swiftly, thereby becoming a “clearer, quicker, tougher” regulator.
The new maximum penalty levels proposed in Amendment 31 in particular go against this intention, as the precise meaning of the terms “deficit” and “turnover” is uncertain, and how these are to be calculated is unclear. This leads to uncertainty for any targets of the penalty and will place an unnecessary burden on the regulator. For example, the regulator would need to interpret what is an appropriate definition of deficit to use for the purposes of the penalty and then estimate what this deficit would be. Similarly, the regulator would need to dedicate resources to estimating what constitutes the employer’s annual global turnover and what would be relevant turnover for this calculation. Further, a question arises about the time at which the deficit or turnover should be assessed. For example, should it be calculated from the time the act took place or at the point of instituting proceedings? If the act is part of a series, at which point in the series should the deficit or turnover be calculated?
Until the regulator had carried out these assessments, the maximum penalty that could be charged would be uncertain. The assumptions that the regulator would need to use would also be open to challenge by the target. This would impede the regulator’s ability to take swift action and could tie enforcement up in lengthy challenges over the penalty amount. This would also put a drain on the resources the regulator has to undertake its functions.
The clause contains a power to increase the maximum amount of the financial penalties if required. This is to ensure that the penalty remains an effective deterrent in the future and accounts for factors such as inflation.
The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, asked why we were consulting on the level of penalties rather than putting these figures in the Bill. The maximum level of penalties is included in the Bill. The level and daily rate of the existing fixed and escalating penalties which relate to automatic enrolment and master trusts are set in regulations. These provisions mirror that approach. Feedback during the consultation on the regulator’s powers indicated strong agreement on similar fixed and escalating civil penalties, but little consensus on the detail of the exact levels. We need to consult further to ensure that the penalties are set at an appropriate level.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked why we do not follow the method of imposing fines used by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The ICO has a fining power as required in accordance with the 2016 general data protection regulation. Article 83 of the GDPR states that the penalties must be at particular levels.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked what modelling or consultation took place to set the maximum financial penalty at £1 million. The Government consulted on the proposals for strengthening the regulator’s powers in 2018, which were developed from the Green Paper consultation in 2017. As I have said, the £1 million maximum penalty was supported by the majority of respondents to the consultation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, also asked about different fines decided by the FCA rather than by averages. I am afraid that I will have to write to her to answer her question on whether others have the power to change the maximum.
I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that the Government have thought carefully about these penalty amounts and struck the right balance between protecting members and being proportionate to the business. Therefore, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.
I realise that my questions were quite detailed, so could I ask the Minister to look at the record and write to me to answer each of them in turn? Could I encourage her to draw on the expertise behind her to answer the questions? Sometimes one gets letters after a debate and, while they relate to the general area of the questions, they are maybe not quite as well targeted as one would hope. I encourage her to do that and would be delighted to leave it at that at this time.
I thank the noble Baroness for this homework. I will ensure it is delivered to her and that it is accurate.
My Lords, in her explanation of the £1 million upper limit, the Minister relied to some extent on the consultation outcomes from 2018. I am curious about who was consulted. Was the ABI a consultee? She will have heard earlier in this debate the ABI’s rather enthusiastic approval of an increase in the £1 million limit, so it would be interesting to know whether the ABI has done a reverse ferret or whether it was not included in the first place.
Secondly, if the Minister is confident in her arguments for the £1 million penalty, as she clearly is, then I find it very strange that in the next section of the Bill it says, “If we don’t like that, we can increase it to anything we like via regulation”. That shows a startling lack of confidence in the £1 million. It is quite wrong to give unlimited discretion via regulation to raise the fine to any amount at all. It is unsatisfactory that this provision exists within the Bill. I am sure that we will want to discuss this further, preferably before Report, and if not, certainly on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 29 withdrawn.
Amendment 30 not moved.
Clause 112 agreed.
Clauses 113 and 114 agreed.
Clause 115: Financial penalties
Amendments 31 and 32 not moved.
Clause 115 agreed.
33: After Clause 115, insert the following new Clause—
“Report for the purposes of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986
(1) The Pensions Regulator must make a report to the Secretary of State under this section if the circumstances in subsection (2) apply.(2) The circumstances in this subsection are where—(a) a person has been convicted of an offence under this Act or another offence related to a pension scheme,(b) it appears to the Pensions Regulator that a person has committed an offence under this Act or another offence related to a pension scheme, or(c) a person is fined under section 88A of the Pensions Act 2004.(3) In the report under subsection (1) the Pensions Regulator must—(a) identify the person,(b) identify, where the person is a corporate body, any person who was a director of it at the time any offence was committed or appears to have been committed,(c) report on any facts which appear to the Pensions Regulator to be relevant to the Secretary of State for the purpose of making a decision under section 8(1) of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, and(d) state whether the Pensions Regulator considers that, having regard to the need for public confidence in the system of pensions regulation, it would be expedient in the public interest for any person so identified to be the subject of a disqualification order.(4) But the Pensions Regulator is not to be required to make a report to the Secretary of State in respect of a person if—(a) that person is a director who is the subject of a disqualification order under section 2 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 in respect of a criminal offence, or(b) in the case of a fine under section 88A of the Pensions Act 2004, it appears to the Pensions Regulator that no public interest would be served in making a disqualification order against that person.”
My Lords, this amendment aims to utilise an existing provision in the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. Section 8(1) of that Act was broadened in 2015 so that the Secretary of State for BEIS may, in the public interest, apply to the court for a disqualification order. It used to be the case that Section 8(1) was activated by a report after certain specific investigations, one of which was an investigation by the FCA. The change in 2015 recognised that the reports did not need to be so restrictive. What I propose follows the theme of the original procedure and suggests that when there has been a serious offence committed regarding pensions, the Pensions Regulator should make a report to the Secretary of State for BEIS for the purposes of the Company Directors Disqualification Act.
The Pensions Regulator would be required to identify the person, or, if a body corporate, the directors at the time when the offence was committed, and,
“state whether the Pensions Regulator considers that, having regard to the need for public confidence in the system of pensions regulation, it would be expedient in the public interest for … a disqualification order.”
It would then be up to the Secretary of State to decide whether to refer it to the court for disqualification. The fact that I have had to explain what this is all about to others outside the Committee, and that it is already envisaged or in law, indicates that it needs a nudge to make it active and that the regulator needs to be empowered and encouraged to make reports.
My proposed new clause is constructed so that all offences can trigger such a report from the Pensions Regulator, whether criminal offences or fines. But under its subsection (4), the Pensions Regulator has discretion not to make a report if a disqualification is already proceeding, which is possible in the event of a criminal offence being decided against an individual, or if the offence is a fine rather than a criminal offence. These new provisions would be particularly relevant when a company has been found guilty. It would mean that the actions of the directors would be investigated. Again, I note that the ABI has indicated support for this amendment.
The inspiration for the amendment comes from the fact that there are certain financial instances or breaches of competition law where the directors are always investigated. Pensions is a significant social issue on which hearing from the relevant regulator should also be a matter of course. There is no automatic disqualification or even an automatic reference to the court—that is up to the Secretary of State—but at least for a criminal matter there would always be a report concerning the circumstances and an added incentive for board scrutiny of matters relating to pensions. I beg to move.
My Lords, I can add little to that careful explanation of the amendment; I know a lot more than I did five minutes ago. However, as the Minister responds, perhaps she could tell us a little more about what happens both now and when the Bill becomes law: that is, what the TPR does when someone has committed an offence, what is its understanding of to whom this should be reported, in what circumstances, and how its enforcement team works with the supervision team and with the FCA’s enforcement supervision arrangements. That is not directly the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, was making but I very much endorse her approach, which is to put the importance of pensions on a par with the importance of threats in other parts of the economy. That is interesting, and I am interested in the Government’s response to it.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for tabling this amendment, which would require the Pensions Regulator to provide a report to the Secretary of State for the purposes of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. Director disqualification is within the remit of the Insolvency Service, which has the powers, resources and expertise to disqualify directors. As such, the Pensions Regulator does not have the power to disqualify directors, as this would be unnecessary, costly and inefficient. However, the Pensions Regulator is already able to share information with the Insolvency Service if it meets the “gateway” criteria as outlined in its restricted information regime under Section 82 of the Pensions Act 2004. The regulator can use this gateway in circumstances where the sharing of information is with a view to instigating director disqualification proceedings.
As such, the regulator is already able to share information with the Insolvency Service where it has identified persistent wrongdoing by a director or where it has already taken regulatory action. Under Section 8 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, the Insolvency Service is then able to apply to the court for a disqualification order on behalf of the Secretary of State, based on investigative material provided by other agencies or departments. Whether or not the Insolvency Service takes action to disqualify a director on the basis of information provided by others, such as the Pensions Regulator, will depend upon its assessment of the case in question. The Pensions Regulator and the Insolvency Service regularly engage with each other to discuss areas of joint interest. They continue to monitor the effectiveness of the disclosure process and are taking steps to streamline it when necessary. This will help to ensure that the organisations are able to work together to achieve successful outcomes and better protect the public.
In summary, the amendment is looking to introduce a process which is already in place. The Pensions Regulator and the Insolvency Service continue to work closely together to streamline this disclosure process and ensure that both organisations have a good working knowledge of each other’s remits. On that basis, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for that explanation. I think that there are two provisions within the Company Directors Disqualification Act: the ones with the Insolvency Service tend to be based around purely financial mechanisms. I will carefully read the response in Hansard to see whether it covers everything that I envisaged it should. I am a little suspicious that it does not; there would otherwise not be the provision of Section 8(1) and its very careful amendment in 2015. As the Committee might expect, I have had some communication with QCs who deal with these kinds of issues. If it is covered, I am happy; if not, I would like to see whether we can tighten it up. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 33 withdrawn.
Amendments 34 to 36 not moved.
Clause 116 agreed.
Schedule 7 agreed.
Clause 117 agreed.
Schedule 8 agreed.
Clause 118: Qualifying pensions dashboard service
37: Clause 118, page 105, line 4, after “service” insert “(which may be publicly or privately owned)”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 37, 47, 48, 60 and 61. Amendments 37, 47 and 60 place in the Bill that there can and will be a publicly owned pensions dashboard. The Minister may give ministerial assurances that it is intended that there will be a public dashboard; unfortunately, ministerial Statements have currency only until the next occupant. There is no requirement in this Bill as drafted that would require a future Secretary of State to make such a provision.
The amendments require that the dashboard ecosystem will include a publicly owned dashboard. The Government’s current policy,
“supports the coordination of an industry-led dashboard”—
“to the creation of a dashboard service designed, developed and owned by industry”.
The whole of the UK’s second-tier pension system will be mandated to participate in dashboards owned in the industry, giving rise to major public good considerations, yet nowhere in that wording is there a requirement to set up a publicly owned dashboard, nor is there one in the Bill.
The DWP feasibility study launched at the end of 2018 set out a clear direction of travel towards a single non-commercial dashboard before moving towards multiple dashboards. By April 2019, in responding to the consultation on their study, the Government had shifted their view to commencing with the simultaneous testing of commercial dashboards. Of the 125 replies to the consultation, 15 were from individual citizens and according to my calculation, nearly 60% were from financial service providers and associated trade bodies and six were from consumer bodies. By late 2019, in a previous version of this Bill, and in this Bill and its impact assessment for this version, commitment to a publicly owned dashboard has faded further.
Amendments 48 and 61 do not prevent commercial dashboards being authorised. They seek to ensure that the Government secure a level of confidence in operational delivery, security, consumer protection and insights into customer behaviour by commencing with a publicly owned pension dashboard for at least a year, and that the Secretary of State should lay before each House of Parliament a review of that service before commercial dashboards enter the market. A year is not a long time, given the scale of the consumer interest. If the Secretary of State believes that there is good reason for taking longer than a year, then my noble friend Lady Sherlock and I will be guilty only of prescience.
Part 4, together with Schedule 9, grants significant regulation-making powers. As the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, observes:
“These powers are skeletal as the scheme has not yet been developed ... There is a need for some of these powers in order to commence the work on pensions dashboards … the rest of the powers could have been omitted until the policy had been prepared and sample regulations produced for consideration as part of a future bill.”
The committee, while recognising that pension issues can be complex, concludes that,
“complexity is not an excuse for taking powers in lieu of policy development.”
Policy and key decisions have not been settled on some fundamental issues. I may not go as far as the observation of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, at Second Reading, who said:
“I have to say that this is at best a half-baked policy. We have no idea exactly how this will work.”—Official Report, 28/1/20; col. 1382.]
I do not go that far, but I fundamentally believe that the project calls for some effective risk controls, hence the call for a first run of the service to be through a publicly controlled dashboard, followed by a report to Parliament.
Building a pensions dashboard service has complexities. Here is just a short list, by way of illustration, of some of the matters not yet resolved or settled. Different parts of the infrastructure will be owned by different people; what are the implications? Liability can occur at different points in the dashboard service, involving different parties, but we do not know what the liability model will be. A matter of importance to trustees is releasing their data and consumers seeking redress on detriment. The proposition as to the presentation of data is not settled. We have not seen the data-sharing risks impact assessment referred to in this Bill’s impact assessment. We do not know to whom or to what body the Secretary of State will delegate powers to set standards and how those bodies will be publicly accountable, an issue which the Constitution Committee highlights. How will the risk framework for the dashboard service align with that applied to pension schemes on scams? What will be the charging model for accessing dashboard services? When will delegated access to an individual’s data be allowed? That is a list not of criticisms but of necessary work in progress. Such unresolved matters require a check. Without it, scrutiny by Parliament is inhibited and the public interest is not well served.
The long-term savings market is particularly vulnerable to consumer detriment because of asymmetry of knowledge and understanding between the consumer and the provider, customer behavioural biases, the complexity of products and the irreversible nature of many pension decisions. There is a plethora of reports and cases from the regulators—the FCA, the CMA, TPR and the OFT—that confirm this. Their reports opine that competition alone cannot correct it. The dashboard will not mitigate all these drivers of consumer detriment, but there are multiple ways that functionality in commercial dashboards could create detriment if not properly introduced.
There are those who argue that the complexities are overconsidered and that pensions dashboards can follow in the slipstream of open banking. Exposing the weaknesses in that argument was done comprehensively by the DWP in its dashboard feasibility study—my compliments to the drafter. It set out how the open banking and pensions dashboard projects differ. To highlight just some of those differences, open banking is intended to create better consumer outcomes through competition in an area where consumers already know what they have and where. Pensions dashboards are intended to increase awareness and understanding in an area where many people do not know how much they have saved and with which providers. The architectural solutions for each are different. Open banking allows consumers to share their banking data with an authorised third party because customers know who they bank with and the digital architecture does not include a finding service.
In pensions, a finder service is required precisely to reconnect people with their savings or to keep track of multiple pots. Open banking customers authorise the service provider to access their data through direct authorisation via their bank account. That is not possible in pensions: most schemes do not have online consumer-facing platforms which allow direct authorisation. The dashboard model would have to support the guidance process through delegated access —an issue of some major significance—which open banking does not support.
The Government conclude that the architectural solutions are not the same and that key differences in objectives et cetera and their legislative and funding bases mean the open banking entity is not a viable option. The solution that is right for dashboards has to be found within the dashboard system itself. I am not alone in my view that the dashboard service should commence with a public dashboard. I will name a few of my—if I may presume to call them such—allies. NEST, with some 8 million members and growing, in its response to the government consultation, argued that,
“the Government’s focus should be on the creation of a single non-commercial public dashboard, with strong governance and consumer protections applied.”
The People’s Pension—a large not-for-profit master trust with more than 5 million members—in its publication Delivering Pensions Dashboards in the Public Interest supported a single non-commercial dashboard before moving towards multiple dashboards as necessary for the public interest. The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, much quoted by the Minister at Second Reading in defence of the Government’s position on many things, takes the view that the Government should ensure that they begin with the first dashboard with a single, non-commercial dashboard to ensure that the level and quality of customer protection is fit for purpose. Which? in its briefing states:
“The Pension Schemes Bill should enable the best possible dashboards to be created in the shortest possible time, starting with a Government-backed pensions dashboard”.
The long-term savings sector needs to harness the consumer positives which financial technology can deliver. It is behind the curve. The pensions dashboard has the potential to enhance private and public good if it is implemented well. The aspiration may be to improve engagement and decision-making and to resolve the problem of small pots, but we need to understand how the dashboard is driving behaviours, including any unintended consequences because the weight of current evidence—and it is heavy—is that in a market vulnerable to consumer detriment, individuals reveal powerful behavioural biases, and even the financially capable can make irrational and sub-optimal decisions.
Once the dashboard architecture is built, it should be tested exclusively as a single, non-commercial dashboard. This amendment recognises the complexities, the risks to be addressed, the choices still to be made and the extent of the delegated powers. It seeks to commence with a public dashboard service and that the Secretary of State lays a review of the structure and effectiveness of that service before each House of Parliament prior to commercial dashboards being authorised.
These amendments are not an argument against commercial dashboards. They are saying, “Get it right; get a level of confidence before you put 25 million people’s data out into a network of commercial services.” It is not only the private interest of the individual customer. If you are putting the whole of the second-tier pension system in the UK into the dashboard ecosystem there are huge issues of public interest and public good. I am not arguing against the dashboard or against harnessing the benefits of financial technology. I am saying that the challenges and the risks are so great, so what is wrong with trialling it through a public dashboard for a year and presenting it to Parliament? If the Secretary of State is confident, the Government go ahead; if not, and they need more time, we will not have done anything wrong in this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendments 70 and 71 in my name have much in common with Amendments 47 and 60, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, which I support. But my amendments are more specific, in that Amendment 70 designates the Money and Pensions Service as the public body, to which the noble Baroness has just referred, which would have to provide a publicly owned pensions dashboard. Amendment 71 stipulates a date by which it should be up and running. Without a date, there is no guarantee in the Bill that we will ever see the service. I will mention in a moment some of the slippages.
I assume that MaPS would qualify under the description of a public body from the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. It is an arm’s-length body sponsored by the DWP, and the Government appoint the chairman and chief executive. It is funded by levies on both the financial services industry and pension schemes, but that does not preclude it from being a public body. We have been told that it is going to provide a dashboard. Page 70 of the very helpful policy brief says:
“The Government is committed to the provision of a dashboard hosted by MaPS.”
If that is a commitment, I see no difficulty in making it a statutory requirement, which Amendment 70 does. Without such a requirement, we would be entirely dependent on the private sector to take the project forward. As we saw from the Library briefing at Second Reading, it has doubts about costs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, has just reminded the Committee of some of the warnings about being over-reliant on the private sector.
I turn to Amendment 72 about the date. At Second Reading, I quoted from the Pensions Dashboard Prototype Project, which said:
“The industry and government hope to have Pensions Dashboard Services ready by 2019.”—[Official Report, 28/1/20; Col. 1372.]
My remarks were drawn to the attention of the project and the comment was hastily withdrawn. However, yesterday, I logged on to the ABI website entitled, “The Pensions Dashboard—your online pension finder”. That website has a 2020 date at the foot of the last page, indicating that it has been updated relatively recently, but on page 1 it said:
“The Government’s objective is for the service to be available to consumers by 2019.”
I expect that also to be revised in the near future—indeed, an email may already be winging its way to the ABI.
Against that background, my target date of December 2023, for something for which we are told the Government’s objective was for it to be up and running two months ago, is excessively generous. Reading the ABI website further, I found the following question:
“If the prototype has worked, why do I have to wait until 2019 to use this myself?”
The answer makes it clear that, in the ABI’s view, any delay is down to the Government. It says:
“The prototype has proved that the technological challenges of agreeing data standards, verifying people’s identities and reporting back in a secure and meaningful way can be done, but it is only part of the solution.”
It goes on to say:
“Setting up a service like this cannot be done by the pensions industry alone, but needs support from the Government and regulators to agree rules for how it will operate.”
That, of course, is what we are doing this evening. It seems that the ABI is ready to go and is just waiting for the Government.
I will put this in a historic context. In 2002, the then Secretary of State at the DWP, Andrew Smith, said that the Government would create a web-based retirement planning tool—the online retirement planner—showing people their total projected pension income. Fast-forward to 2014—if fast-forward is the right expression—when Mark Hoban, then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said:
“A ‘RetirementSaverService’ (dashboard) will be essential to support pension freedoms.”
Five years after pension freedoms were introduced, there is still no dashboard. In the meantime, eight national pensions dashboards have been launched in Europe.
Assuming the Bill reaches the statute book later this year, why should it take more than another 12 months to get the service up and running by MaPS? Will the Government, if they are minded not to accept my amendment, propose an amendment of their own on Report with an earlier date?
My Lords, I strongly support the amendments in this group and have signed Amendment 70 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young. I signed it because I was extremely puzzled by the use of “may” in this context. I had thought that the Government had publicly committed to establishing a public, free-to-use dashboard under the aegis of MaPS. Can the Minister say whether that commitment stands? If it does, surely “must” has to replace “may”, as suggested by the amendment?
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Drake has made a compelling case for the importance of this issue as well as giving us a helpful strategic overview of the state of the long-term savings industry and the impact of this dashboard on it. Done right, a dashboard could in time offer a useful service to savers. It would offer a chance to locate lost pots, to view in one place all the different bits of pension, state and private, and to make a realistic assessment whether someone is saving enough for retirement. But equally, the risks are huge, particularly given the scale if, as my noble friend said, data for more than 22 million people are to be channelled through this platform.
This becomes a public good only if it is designed and delivered in the right way, with transparency and all the necessary safeguards. As my noble friend Lady Drake said at Second Reading,
“public good cannot be traded off against commercial interests.”—[Official Report, 28/1/20; col. 1367.]
Labour would prefer this to be a public service, but if the Government are determined to go down the road of commercial dashboards, it is clearly essential that there be one “public good dashboard” owned, controlled and governed by a public body. My noble friend has given us a frankly staggering list of organisations supporting this that are right at the heart of the industry, including the CEO of the Pensions Regulator, who told the Work and Pensions Select Committee on 26 June 2019 that
“there must be the public dashboard”.
It is really very simple: the public should not be required to use a commercially owned dashboard to access their own data, especially in a market so susceptible to consumer detriment.
It is quite extraordinary that there is nothing in the Bill saying that there should be a public dashboard, when I think everybody had assumed this was going to happen. The Minister said at Second Reading
“MaPS committed to providing a dashboard in its 2019-20 business plan.”—[Official Report, 28/1/20; col. 1414.]
However, a Minister telling us that an NDPB has plans to do something is not the same as legislating that it must happen, so our amendments simply require that there be a public good dashboard.
The MaPS business plan said:
“It is envisaged that there will be multiple dashboards connected to the infrastructure, but also that there is merit in a consumer facing dashboard provided by a non-commercial and impartial organisation. The Money and Pensions Service, as part of its business as usual function to provide impartial information and guidance, will begin the development of a noncommercial consumer facing dashboard.”
There is not exactly a sense of urgency there; it contrasts quite markedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Young, has described as the ABI champing at the bit to get going and hoping to have it done by last year, or at the very latest this year.
That is the second point. Even if Ministers seek to assure us that MaPS is committed to producing a public dashboard, we want to know that it will be up and running before any commercial dashboards are allowed to start operating. That is what Amendment 48 is designed to ensure. I cannot see why this should be controversial. If Ministers are confident that MaPS is on target, no doubt they will accept the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Young, and reassure the Committee that a good public dashboard will be set up. Would it not be obviously sensible to have that up and running to test the architecture and infrastructure before allowing private companies to set their own up dashboards, with the additional risks that will bring?
I suppose it is possible that Ministers are not confident that MaPS will have its public dashboard running any time soon. They could easily dispel that thought by accepting the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Young, or indeed ours. I believe MaPS has said only that it hopes to be one of the first. The state’s recent track record with large-scale IT projects, as those of us covering DWP know to our cost, has not been fantastic. If multiple dashboards are to be allowed to be set up all at once, and if MaPS is to take its time in doing it, there could potentially be a considerable period in which consumers will be able to access their data only through a commercial dashboard. That does not seem to be in line with what we understood the Government intended to do.
Our amendments are simply designed to ensure three things: that there is a dashboard which is publicly owned, controlled and governed; that it is free to use and does not display advertising; and that if Ministers are to go down the route of commercial dashboards, they do not do so until the public dashboard has been operating for at least a year, and the Secretary of State has been able to report to Parliament on its structure and effectiveness.
I would like to ask the Minister some specific questions. They are really easy—not A-level questions but low-grade SATs questions, which I have no doubt should be in her brief somewhere. I shall read them really slowly. First, when does DWP expect the MaPS dashboard to be up and running? Secondly, when does it expect the first commercial dashboard to be up and running? Sorry, I was looking at the wrong Minister. Thirdly, how many dashboards do the Government think we will have? How many do they know of that are being tested or in the pipeline? Fourthly—this is a biggie—will commercial dashboards be allowed to charge consumers for using them? Fifthly, and this may be at GCSE standard, I understand that alongside any dashboard developed by MaPS, a liability model will need to be developed. We do not have any guarantee that the liability model will be ready before commercial dashboards become available, even if the MaPS dashboard is not ready. Is there any way that there could be a gap between people using commercial dashboards and the liability model being ready? That matters because, of course, if detriment is created then we need to know how it is to be managed and where responsibility lies.
I remain very worried about what the Government may be creating without considering all the implications, and its unintended as well as intended consequences. I look forward to the Minister’s reply to our amendments and to those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young. I hope the Government can reassure us that they will in fact be committed to having a high-quality, public good dashboard established before the industry is allowed to get into a free-for-all.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Sherlock, my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for their valuable contributions to a debate on what I am the first to acknowledge is a significant set of topics. This group of amendments explores how privately operated dashboards will work alongside a public dashboard provided by the Money and Pensions Service. They also explore whether a public service dashboard will be delivered.
I want first to reassure the Committee that the Government are absolutely committed to the Money and Pensions Service, or MaPS, providing a qualifying dashboard service. Let there be no doubt about that; it was clearly set out in our consultation response Pensions Dashboards: Government Response to the Consultation published in April last year. The MaPS business plan for 2019-20, also published last April, subsequently confirmed its commitment to deliver a dashboard.
Furthermore, to pick up the sense of Amendments 47, 48 and 70, we entirely understand the importance of having a dashboard run by a public body without any commercial interest. One of the core functions of the Money and Pensions Service under the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 is to provide free and impartial information and guidance about occupational and private pensions. Read together with Clause 122, that ensures that MaPS has the legal powers to provide a pensions dashboard that includes state pension information. To be clear, I say that accessing the information on dashboards will remain free, regardless of whether a dashboard is provided by MaPS or another organisation.
MaPS will be able to include signposting to free and impartial guidance on its dashboard, as will other organisations, as that supports its pensions guidance function. However, MaPS will not be able to host any income-generating advertising. MaPS has no revenue-raising powers under the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018.
I turn to ownership. We expect MaPS to provide a dashboard on an ongoing basis. However, it is important for there to be flexibility in how that function is carried out in line with changing technology and consumer interests. Here I am talking about the medium to long term. We also want to maximise the Government’s ability to ensure that ownership of the dashboard is in the right place in the longer term.
On Amendment 71, I very much share my noble friend Lord Young’s desire for a dashboard to be delivered in a timely manner to help people plan for their retirement. However, setting a date in legislation may be counterproductive. It risks creating a situation where decisions are taken simply to meet a legislative deadline, regardless of outcomes, rather than to meet the needs of individuals. To my mind, more important here is that we ensure that the service is accurate, secure and consumer focused. Developing a service that gives consumers a single point of access to their pensions information is complex. There are 40,000 schemes of differing types, covering around 25 million people with private pension wealth. The staged onboarding of thousands of pension schemes covering millions of separate records will raise issues that are not currently apparent, it is safe to predict. That tells us that dashboards should be delivered only when the Government and MaPS are confident that they are ready, so that consumers can be confident in the service offered. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, in particular agrees, given her apposite references to computer systems that perhaps have not quite lived up to expectations.
Through Amendments 37 and 48 the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Sherlock, also probe the question of introducing multiple dashboards alongside a MaPS dashboard. Having the potential to offer multiple dashboards at launch maximises the possible reach of this policy from the outset and could help to meet the differing needs of the many people using them. User research completed as part of the Government’s feasibility study and consultation showed that individuals may prefer to use a dashboard provided by an organisation with which they already have a relationship—for example, their employer—due to higher levels of familiarity and trust. It is a case of one step at a time, however.
I hope that the Committee is reassured that the information shown on all dashboards, public or private, will be the same, and based on user testing. We also intend all dashboards to start with a limited functionality until we better understand how individuals interact with their information.
A majority of respondents to the government consultation were supportive of multiple dashboards, provided sufficient consumer protections were in place. The Government have considered how to ensure that consumer protection, and accordingly we shall be introducing a new regulated activity under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to reflect the provision of dashboard services. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, we will cover this issue in more detail later.
Clause 118 provides the power to set out detailed requirements “for qualifying pensions dashboards”. It is also likely that this will be linked to the new regulated activity outlined by the Financial Conduct Authority. These are all provisions to ensure consumer protection in relation to privately run dashboards. Our job is to put that consumer protection regime in place, but, once it is in place, we do not wish to constrain the potential reach of the policy. Nor do we wish unnecessarily to limit consumer choice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked a number of questions. One was whether I could reassure her that pension schemes will not find themselves contravening any GDPR rules when they respond to a request received by the pension finder service. A request of that kind will inevitably be a subject access request from an individual to the data controller to view their data. The individual’s identity will have been verified to the agreed standard, so the pension scheme can be confident about who is making the request. Only the Money and Pensions Service and qualifying pensions dashboard providers that meet the requirements set out in regulations and operate to agreed standards will be able to connect to the dashboard infrastructure. Any request to search for consumers’ pension information that is not received from the pension finder service will not be provided via pensions dashboards.
The noble Baroness also referred to the issues raised by your Lordships’ Constitution Committee about the nature of the skeletal powers in the Bill, and the whole issue of delegated powers. Perhaps I may say, very respectfully, that the noble Baroness was slightly unfair on your Lordships’ committee. As it acknowledged, enacting skeletal provisions was done for a purpose, which was to provide momentum to the process of co-operation that will be required to develop the dashboard infrastructure. The delegated powers memorandum set out why that approach was taken, and the need to reflect what is a dynamic technical environment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, also asked what steps the Government were taking to ensure that consumers did not fall victim to scammers. I accept the importance of that issue and hope we are sufficiently seized of it. The dashboards will be designed to prevent consumers’ data being unlawfully harvested. Only qualifying dashboard providers and the dashboard provided by the Money and Pensions Service will be permitted to connect to the system and have access to the pension finder service, which is the route for displaying information from pension schemes. We should remember at all times that it will be consumers who have control over who can access information, and that they will be able to revoke their consent at any time. In addition, before guiders and financial advisers can view any pensions information, they will be required to prove their identity, and that they are on the list of registered financial advisers.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Sherlock, asked about the liability model. We will—I suspect on Monday—come to Amendment 46, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and I intend to cover the liability model then, if the Committee will allow.
My noble friend Lord Young and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, pressed me on when we believe pensions dashboards will actually materialise. I need hardly say that we are keen to see dashboards available as soon as possible, to help consumers plan for their retirement. However, as I have explained, it is important that we ensure that the service designed is accurate, secure and consumer focused. I repeat that this is a very complex business. It is important that we do not rush it and that the design and functionality of the service is right. That is why we have asked the Money and Pensions Service to convene an industry delivery group. That group will lead the design and development of the infrastructure that will support the delivery of dashboards.
I am afraid that all this will take a bit of time. The dates that my noble friend referred to, which apparently still appear on the ABI website, were, in hindsight, somewhat heroic. We have to live with the reality that we find ourselves in, but I can tell my noble friend that MaPS and the industry delivery group intend to set out their approach for the year ahead by Easter. By then, we should have at least the outline of a plan, with milestones I hope, so that we can be a little clearer on the answer to the question that he raised.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and my noble friend referred to the ABI commentary on the need for a commercial dashboard. The ABI briefing for Committee showed that, in its research, 49% of respondents were comfortable accessing information from pension providers, 47% from online banking, 32% by a mobile app and 20% from a government service. That is quite a revealing set of findings. The first figure that I quoted, 49%, tells a particularly powerful story.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked several very simple questions, some of which I have answered. One was about how many commercial dashboards are currently under development. We do not have an answer to that. There has, however, been significant interest from around the industry, and I can only suppose that we will get greater clarity on that over the coming months. I am sorry that I cannot be more illuminating on that point.
I should just say, as I do not think I have made this clear, that we cannot see any reason why commercial dashboards should not be available at the same time as the publicly owned and funded dashboard, as long as they meet the criteria. It could be that the publicly funded dashboard will be launched first and be first in class, and that others will follow. On the other hand, it could equally be that we will see a range of dashboards emerging at more or less the same time. I am not able to predict which of those will happen, but we are open to both scenarios.
I think that covers the main points. I would like noble Lords to be reassured that, as we move forward with this process, the way that dashboards develop will be kept under regular review by the industry delivery group, the regulators and the Government. User interests are, and will remain, central to the delivery and development of dashboards, and I restate the Government’s commitment that the Money and Pensions Service will provide a dashboard.
I hope that this provides the Committee with the necessary clarity, certainty and—
I hope my noble friend will forgive me for intervening, but after what he has just said, it is important to put on record that there are potentially significant dangers in launching commercial dashboards at the same time as the publicly funded dashboard. It is likely that that will generate enormous confusion in the consumer. It is entirely possible that consumers will not know which dashboard is which and will be driven to a commercial dashboard, which may not be in their impartial interests. I urge my noble friend to consider carefully that there are really strong and important reasons from a consumer protection perspective to have this publicly funded dashboard first, especially as the Government have devoted so much resource and commitment to providing it.
I say—gently—to my noble friend that I could not disagree more. I cannot see the risks that she has articulated, given all that I have said about putting the necessary consumer protections in place before anyone makes the first move to launch a commercial dashboard. Having said that, I very much respect her knowledge of the landscape and would be happy to have a conversation with her about the risks that she referred to. But having thought about this in some depth myself, I am satisfied that we will not allow a situation to arise where consumers are confused or put at risk by the multiplicity of dashboards. All the dashboards will show the same information. They will not be allowed to show different information. They may set it out differently, but that does not seem to constitute a risk to the consumer or of confusing the end user.
Subject to those remarks, and despite the lack of clarity around the timing of the matters I referred to, I hope that the assurances I have given are sufficient for noble Lords, and that the noble Baroness feels content to withdraw her amendment on that basis.
My Lords, this is the first chance Parliament has had to scrutinise this major project. I am not asking for the project to be rushed. I am the last person who would want to set up MaPS or the DWP to fail. I wish them well and to succeed. I do not have a negative view, but I want this project to work.
The Minister gave assurances that there will be a public dashboard, but it is not in the Bill. I could cite various previous occasions when Ministers made assurances about things but they did not materialise. If we accept, which I do, the sincerity with which the Minister has committed to there being a publicly owned dashboard, I see no reason why a little amendment to the Bill could not capture that assurance, so that the next Secretary of State does not change their mind.
On the ownership of the dashboard, I was actually rather worried—not reassured—by one comment the Minister made. He said that ownership in the long term, with a whole series of unknowns about how things will develop, is something that will need to be considered. That may be true; however, given those unknowns and that we do not know how policy will develop, the delegated powers in this Bill should not take to themselves the ability to make fundamental changes to the ownership of the dashboard. Because it is of such significance, that issue should come back to Parliament. Does the Minister accept that point?
I accept that some people may prefer to use their own provider’s dashboard: I can see situations where one would, if there is a high level of trust. However, I hope the Minister will accept that there is equally strong evidence that consumers want access to a public dashboard outside the commercial environment. Does he accept, equally, that the general public seek this?
This will not work unless the schemes release their data. I do not go behind that but accept it as something that has to be done for a dashboard to work. They are entitled to a level of confidence about the protection of that data and the liability when it is released. In the documents that we have, the state has protected itself: it has reserved that it may not release state data onto the dashboard. I do not want to go behind that. However, if the state is not confident at a given point in time to release its data for whatever reason, one has to ask why it is okay to mandate private schemes, since they will ask that question too. Does the Minister accept that that will be one of the concerns?
I was not trying to over-select—or select at all, in that sense—the Constitution Committee’s comments, and I accept that there is a need for flexibility in the momentum when building the architecture. However, that is different from having open-ended delegated powers on all matters of policy that might emerge on market and consumer behaviour.
In his comments, the Minister said that the dashboard would start with limited functionality, which is reassuring—that is the sort of comment I like to hear. However, on my next amendment I want to address where that functionality moves on. The delegated powers allow it to move on and there are no protections in the Bill for when the functionality extends beyond the collection and display of information.
I will come back on a couple of points raised by the noble Baroness. The regulations that would achieve any future changes to the dashboard are subject to consultation and the affirmative resolution process. It comes back to what I indicated earlier was a step-by-step process. If the Government wanted to augment or change the content of the dashboard, they would have to do it in a measured and ordered way.
She also asked whether I believe that consumers want a publicly funded dashboard. I think that the answer to that will be revealed in consumer behaviour: if they clearly want it, they will use it, and we will know that. Of course, we cannot predict how consumer behaviour may change over the medium to long-term. That is the point that I was seeking to make earlier.
I will make a practical point. Running up to the launch, it would surely be very useful to have extensive marketing and advertising of MaPS, so that citizens know what to expect when it is live.
That is a very constructive suggestion from my noble friend. I will take it away with me.
My Lords, that had better not happen too soon, though, because there might be nothing to see for a while. I am very grateful to the Minister for his thorough response, even if some of it disappoints me. I am grateful to him for taking his time to go through the questions.
My noble friend Lady Drake, as always, expresses it more cogently and thoroughly than I do, but my problem is that the Minister is essentially saying that the Government are committed to MaPS producing a dashboard. This is not the same as the Government saying that they will ensure that there is a dashboard. My worry is that I do not want to see this rushed. I have been an adviser in government myself, when tax credits were being developed. I realise the problems that come out and I know only too well that when you develop new computer systems, you do not know what will happen until you press the button on the first day. However, my worry is that that is precisely what could happen here. If the Government are determined to allow commercial dashboards to go live whenever they are ready, what if MaPS then takes years to get it right? What if it never does? What if MaPS itself fails on another front? We could end up never having a public dashboard, in which case the Minister would not have broken his word but none the less a public dashboard would never have come to pass. If it were in the Bill there would be an obligation on Ministers.
I take my noble friend Lady Drake’s point about new incumbents. I have been in my brief since I think 2011 or 2012. I think that I am on my seventh Secretary of State. Given that one of them was there for quite a long time, there has been an awful lot of turnover since. It is not impossible that a new Secretary of State could come in and take a radically different view from their predecessor, as they have in my time, on some aspect of policy. It is not really the kind of assurance that we would want.
My worry is that the Minister has not addressed one point: if the Government believe that there should be a public dashboard, but are relaxed about the fact there could be a long period of time where consumers would be able to access their data, which the Government had mandated the release of, through only a commercial dashboard, why do they think that there should be a public dashboard at all? Theoretically, there could be five years between the commercial dashboard and the MaPS dashboard. If the Government think that it does not matter that there will be no public dashboard for that interim period, why do they think that it matters at all?
My final point is about the fact that the Minister thinks that there are no risks at all. I would like to hear this conversation between him and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, but I think it should take place in this Committee. The Minister defended the skeletal nature of the Bill. We will come back to this in the next group on Monday, but the Constitution Committee was quite explicit in saying that the Government’s defence that the Bill is very complex, that we have to get on with it and that we should not worry because the regulations will be affirmative, is not adequate or an excuse for drafting the Bill in this way. Part 4 is almost a skeleton.
The combination of all this is that the Government are saying, “There should be a dashboard. We cannot tell you when the public dashboard will be up. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine because we will regulate it. We can’t tell you who will regulate it, or how, or any of the circumstances. We can’t even tell you how we’ll make sure the risks don’t come to pass”. The Minister says that the information will be the same, but can he tell me whether it will be displayed in the same way, who will decide what the information will be or what the time periods will be? None of these questions has yet been answered. We will come back to them with our next amendment.
The Minister is asking the Committee to take a huge amount on trust when we have literally no idea what the dashboard will look like. Yet, somehow, we are just meant to say that it will be fine and the risks are fine. I spent 10 years on the board of the Financial Ombudsman Service. Every year we had to read a selection of case files. I have a pretty long experience of all the things that have gone wrong in sectors where the Government were confident they were well regulated and controlled, and where things could never possibly go wrong. My goodness, they have gone wrong in ways one could never have imagined when the regulations were being framed.
I am glad that the Minister is confident that there are low risks. I do not share his confidence, but maybe I am an old cynic. I would be interested if he could respond in particular to the point about why there needs to be a public dashboard at all if the Government do not mind whether there is not one for as long as it takes for MaPS to catch up. Can he answer that point?
I believe I am right in saying that while your Lordships’ Delegated Powers Committee had some trenchant things to say about the delegated powers in the rest of the Bill, it felt pretty relaxed about the powers in Part 4, because it recognised that it was absolutely necessary to have the kind of flexibility I referred to. We must take it that the committee looked at these matters in some depth. Clearly, it did not feel constrained in criticising the nature of the powers in other parts of the Bill. I think the delegated powers here are necessary. I do not think we should be frightened of them, but I can see that the accumulation of them might appear off-putting to noble Lords.
I am conscious that I was a member of the Constitution Committee. The issue is not that simply the Government do or do not want flexibility. The issue is that such extensive delegated powers are being taken in the absence of significant areas of policy being settled. That is not the correct way to approach legislation.
I hear what the noble Baroness says. It is not that the policy is not settled but that the implementation of the policy is not settled. We know broadly what we want to achieve but the detail has yet to be worked through; including the functionality and the way that the liability model will form. We do not know all the answers; we know some of the answers, but not all of them. I do not accept that the policy as such is a blank sheet of paper.
I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 37 withdrawn.
Committee adjourned at 7.41 pm.