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Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2020

Third Reading

Relevant documents: 4th, 7th, 8th and 16th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Pension Schemes Bill, has consented to place her interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

A privilege amendment was made.


Moved by

My Lords, before we move to the technicalities of closing our debates on the Bill in this House and it moves for consideration in the other place, I want to take a moment to reflect on the Bill and its passage through your Lordships’ House.

This is important legislation that will benefit members of the public and will help people plan for their future. As I said at Second Reading, the Bill will have a far-reaching impact for people saving into pensions for their retirement. It ensures that reckless bosses cannot gamble with people’s savings; it transforms the way people get information about their retirement savings; and it introduces a whole new type of pension to the market.

It is clear from the excellent contributions and speeches made as the Bill progressed through this House that many of your Lordships agreed with its principles. Contributions and questions from all sides have been thorough and searching. I would not have expected anything different.

The Government listened to your Lordships’ arguments and concerns as the Bill progressed and made a number of amendments both in Committee and on Report— 73 in total, which I think you will agree have strengthened the Bill. We recognised the concerns of the DPRRC and this House in respect of delegated powers; we listened to your thoughts about a public dashboard; we introduced measures in respect of climate reporting and the Paris Agreement; and we have responded to the threat of scams by tightening the rules on transfers.

Your Lordships made further amendments to the Bill on Report concerning intergenerational fairness, consumer protection and scheme funding. We will look at these carefully along with the strong arguments made in support of them as the Bill progresses in the other place.

I thank all those who have engaged on the Floor of the House and in the many meetings that we have had outside, which I hope you found helpful. I thank my noble friends Lord Howe and Lady Scott for all the help and support they have given me throughout this process. This was my first Bill, and they have helped enormously to keep me on the straight and narrow. I thank the Whips office, the House staff, my private office, led by Vanessa Drury, and all those involved in helping us through the hybrid proceedings. These have been very testing times for everyone, and the fact that we are here at all bears testimony to the work they have put in.

Finally, I want to thank the Bill team and all the officials across DWP. I thank them for the extensive engagement programme that they helped me with. I thank Jo Gibson, Jane Woolley, Mike Jewell and Debbie Bullen—to name but four—but there are many support people behind them, and I would not want to miss anybody out in trying to name them all. They have put in incredibly long hours to support my noble friends and me during debates, to facilitate briefing meetings, and to provide the updates, letters and briefings that noble Lords have received. They have done this at a time of great uncertainty, with many teams reduced to help support front-line services. I hope that they will manage to get some well-deserved time away over the summer.

On that note, I thank you all again for your patience and support. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for those remarks and concur with them. We have agreed on so much about this Bill: we support the new CDC pension schemes; we all want to see financial technology harnessed to benefit consumers and to make the financial markets work more efficiently; and we are keen to work constructively with the Government to bring innovations such as the dashboard to fruition.

Where we have differed is on the extent of the protections needed to mitigate the risk of consumer detriment and poor outcomes. We still believe that the weight of evidence is with our arguments, as are reports from various regulators. I hope that by the time the Bill is debated in another place, the reasoning behind our Report amendments on the head start for the public dashboard, on the risks of dashboard transactions and on questions of fairness will find favour.

The pandemic has pushed many consumers into digital engagement far faster than they may naturally have adapted to it. While that has kept our economy and society functioning, it has also exposed some consumers to greater risk of detriment. We might not see any consequential increase in the number scams until later in the year, but that means that the provisions in this Bill will be timely and welcome. More risks will emerge, including new ones as a result of Covid, so I urge Ministers to keep the House informed as regulators scan the landscape and the Financial Ombudsman monitors new kinds of complaint. Although they are not covered in this Bill, we wait with interest to see how the Government will regulate the newly emerging superfunds, given the economic impact of Covid.

Pensions are very long term, and it will take decades for the full effects of public policy decisions by any Government to be seen. That is why it is so desirable that pensions policy be built on the foundations of political consensus, and it is why I am grateful for the significant concessions that have been given during the passage of this Bill.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Drake, whose expertise and determination underpinned our campaign for the Government to commit to a public dashboard and have it operating from the start. I am grateful for support from across the House for that and for all the shared support for moves to secure commitments on governance, including ensuring that dashboard services will be regulated by the FCA. It was great to see cross-party working on climate issues, led by my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, result in an agreed position with government and the first ever reference to climate change in domestic pensions legislation. I am grateful to the Minister for yielding to pressure from many quarters for amendments on transfers and on delegated legislation.

This is a better Bill than the one which entered the House, and I give thanks to all who made that possible. I thank my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, but I am sad that it will be my last time sharing the Front Bench with him. He has given so much to this House and to our country in his decades of public service. I look forward to his continued contributions from the Back Benches.

I am a grateful to Dan Harris of our staff team, who has done sterling work on this Bill and is a joy to work with, as are all my colleagues who joined in during our proceedings. I am grateful to House officials and the broadcast teams. I am very grateful to the Bill team and all the officials who have met us repeatedly and patiently answered our many questions. I am grateful, too, to colleagues across the House for intelligent and thoughtful debates. I am grateful also to the Ministers: to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his gentle engagement and to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, for her co-operative spirit and her willingness to engage and to concede. This may have been her first Bill; I am sure that it will not be the last. I look forward to joining in and occasionally doing battle yet again.

We did the Committee stage of this Bill before Covid, crammed into the Moses Room with not a hint of social distancing. We did the Report stage in hybrid mode. To be honest, I will never get to love voting on my phone or get used to making passionate speeches to my iPad, but it has shown that this process can work. We have thoroughly scrutinised a vital and highly technical Bill, and we have made it better than it was. That is the job of the House of Lords in a nutshell. I am so glad we can still do it.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the very important new amendments concerning transfer rights. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and I attempted to do, perhaps rather clumsily, what they do rather elegantly. We live in a time when scams are increasing, people are desperate for any return, online propositions are everywhere and can seem very tempting, and your money—occasionally all your money—is easy and quick to lose. These amendments will not solve those problems, but they will prove a valuable addition to the guidance armoury and to the better protection of consumers, and I welcome them.

My noble friend Lady Janke led the debate from these Benches with real insight and conviction. It is a pity that she cannot be with us today as the Bill concludes its passage through the House. She has asked me to thank, on her behalf, all the Members who have taken part in what has been a constructive and congenial process. She has particularly asked me to congratulate the Minister and her officials on their apparently unlimited patience, their evident willingness to listen and their responsiveness. I join my noble friend Lady Janke in her remarks, especially as concerns the Minister’s patience and forbearance. The Minister’s character determined the character of our discussions. I also thank all Members who joined in those discussions, especially my noble friend Lady Bowles and the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake, Lady Sherlock and Lady Altmann. Their expertise was evident throughout and greatly added to the value of the debate. I believe that, collectively, we have made a good Bill better.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund. I place on record that I have spoken on this Bill, I have tracked all stages of it and I pay a major tribute to my noble friend on the Front Bench, in particular for her care and attention regarding the less obvious aspects of a major Bill like this. If this is her first Bill as Minister, she has made an extraordinarily good start.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend, who has managed a complex and important territory most constructively. I also thank the Opposition for collaborating in a constructive way. I could not help thinking, as we come to the end of this bit of legislation, that if we look forward 30 years, we will then be in a very different age where people will live much longer and will retire later. There will have to be an adaption of their pension saving between now and then but, for the present, this Bill has done a very good job of addressing a difficult territory.

I thank everybody for their comments and supportive remarks. What has really come out of this is that we collaborated, we talked, we listened and we made the Bill better. For that, I thank everybody.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Sitting suspended.