All 8 Baroness Sherlock contributions to the Pension Schemes Act 2021

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Tue 28th Jan 2020
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 24th Feb 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting : House of Lords & Committee stage
Wed 26th Feb 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 2nd Mar 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 4th Mar 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 30th Jun 2020
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Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage
Wed 15th Jul 2020
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3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading
Tue 19th Jan 2021
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Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords

Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard)
Tuesday 28th January 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an interesting and thoughtful debate and I have learned a lot during the evening. I now know a lot more about doctors’ pay, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and more about actuaries, thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I should draw the attention of the House to an historic interest: I am former senior independent director of the Financial Ombudsman Service, to which I will refer later. I, too, look forward to my first Bill with the Minister and her team and I look forward to engaging with them in the weeks ahead.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, for reminding us of what the world was like without pensions and how important it is to get this right. I am grateful to her for that piece of context.

Labour is in broad agreement with the aims of the Bill, but we will want to see clarifications, assurances and improvements. As we have heard, this is a framework Bill with many delegated powers—a point made very elegantly by the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes, my noble friend Lady Donaghy, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and others. I am delighted to hear that the Minister will bring forward some illustrative regulations—I am not sure what they are but I look forward to seeing them —for Part 1. I hope she will heed the recommendations from her noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, my noble friend Lord Hutton and others that other areas will also need this detail. I refer in particular to Part 4 which, essentially, is simply the granting of powers to Ministers to do things by regulation. If we see those regulations not, we know not what those things are. So I encourage the Minister to draw those together before we get much further.

I have many questions for the Minister, but this is in fact an attempt to be helpful. If some of them can get dispatched, we will not need to spend too long in Committee, and at the moment we have only four days in Grand Committee.

Let me look at the main provisions of the Bill. First, on CDC schemes—I will try to learn to call them CMPs but I am not there yet—Labour broadly welcomes the proposals and my noble friends Lord McKenzie of Luton and Lord Hain have made the case for the Royal Mail scheme. But we are also concerned to see protections for existing public sector DB schemes—a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and others.

My noble friend Lady Drake raised the crucial issue of the sustainability requirement and of the potential difference between the way in which that may operate here and the way it operates in master trusts. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response on how that will work in CDCs.

A number of noble Lords made reference to the fact that, although a CDC scheme may give a better pension than the alternatives available, of course it is not guaranteed. So I look forward to the Minister telling us how workers will properly be informed about the risks and potential changes in what is coming their way.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Altmann, expressed concerns about the way in which pension freedoms operating in CDC might impact back on the scheme and the shared risk of those remaining in the scheme. I am also interested in how that might affect the person wanting to move out because, as far as I can see, there is no requirement for someone to take advice when transferring out of a CDC scheme. Why not?

I read somewhere that Julian Barker, the DB lead at DWP, said at a meeting in the other place that the Government intend to introduce a £30,000 advice threshold similar to the one that operates in DB transfers some time in the future. Is that definitely happening and, if so, at what point in the future might we look forward to it? Will the FCA be responsible for creating new rules for financial advice on CDCs in that context?

Let me turn now to the pensions dashboard. The case for a dashboard was made by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Flight, Lord Young of Cookham, and Lord Freeman. The big question is who is going to run it or them? My noble friend Lady Drake made a strong case for this, because my understanding of the Bill is not simply that there will be many dashboards—many flowers will bloom, one of which will be bloomed out of the Money and Pension Service—but that there is no requirement that I can see that there should be a public-good dashboard. Can the Minister tell us about that? It seems obvious that that should be the place to start, but it seems that there is not even a requirement there should be one. I may have misread this, and I would welcome the Minister’s clarification. However, that is my reading of the impact assessment.

If that is the case, are the Government seriously planning, as my noble friend Lady Drake said, to compel all pension schemes to release data on £7 trillion of assets and 22 million people, and then tell those people that they can access their own data only in a commercial setting? We do not know how many dashboards there will be. Can the Minister tell us how many have been tested? We have heard concerns about how the dashboards will be used in commercial settings. How are the Government going to protect consumers against the misuse of commercial dashboards by providers when the Bill does not contain, as my noble friends Lord Hutton and Lady Donaghy pointed out, even a legal duty on operators to act in the best interests of savers?

I shall listen carefully to the Minister’s response to my noble friend Lady Drake, who said that transactional dashboards specifically should not be allowed without further legislation. Imagine the position of the Government if a misselling scandal were to ensue in a market created by the Government having compelled the release of data on individual pensions. If that happens, we will not be talking PPI; Ministers will not simply have failed to stop a scandal, they will have legislated to create it. So I ask the Minister to think carefully before moving any further down this road.

There were a number of questions about other issues such as data quality, as raised by my noble friend Lady Donaghy. Some interesting points were made by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, about identification and access by widows and widowers. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response.

I have a few other questions. How much transparency will there be around the FCA’s criteria and process for authorising dashboards? Who will oversee dashboard complaints? Will it be the Financial Ombudsman Service or somebody else? There are clearly already demands for more information on the dashboards, whether from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, on other savings holdings, or the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, about the crucial information relating to the climate emergency the savers will want to see. What are the Government doing to plan for those developments.

On the powers of the Pensions Regulator, my noble friend Lady Drake again made a clear assessment. The two questions are: first, are the regulator’s powers currently being used adequately and appropriately; and, secondly, does it need more powers? Those are the two things to hold on to. We have had pushes from both sides—from those who think there are not enough powers and from those who think the powers are too strong—but I take the view that, if you read the reports from the Select Committees on BHS and Carillion, it is hard to conclude that the chief danger facing the pension sector is an over-zealously interventionist regulator. So we should look carefully at how we decide to get that balance right as we move forward.

Having said that, Committee here will be a good point to probe some of the questions about drafting and scope. There are some important questions. Is there a risk that the Bill as drafted could criminalise minor actions or ordinary business activities? Could it catch third parties such as banks and trade unions who interact with the sponsoring employer? Could it even, in theory, catch government entities that contract with a private pension scheme? We will need to explore those questions in Committee.

The Bill also proposes that the regulator will additionally be able to issue a contribution notice in new circumstances where an act or failure to act materially reduced the resources of the employer or materially reduced the debt likely to be recovered from an employer in the event of an immediate insolvency. One can see in recent history where the inspiration for those came from, of course, but contribution notices have rarely been issued. Do Ministers expect that these changes will increase the likelihood of the regulator using the moral hazard powers. Will these new triggers for contribution notices be easier to activate, as it is currently a long and developed process with many stages?

The Bill also creates new duties on employers and others to notify the regulator about certain events relating to the sponsoring employer of a scheme—the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, mentioned this—and there are certainly questions to be asked about what those circumstances are. We will want to understand that more in Committee in order to get a sense of the range of circumstances and what it is intended to be, while understanding that it is impossible to nail everything down, even in regulations.

As the Bill substantially increases the role and powers of the regulator, what is the Government’s thinking about whether it will need additional resources to enable it to do its job? We need to make sure that it is able proactively and effectively to use the powers it has been given to implement the law and ensure that it is enforced.

The killer question is this: are the Government confident that this new legislation plugs the holes in the regulator’s powers that were highlighted by the failures of BHS and Carillion? The Minister should think carefully, because that is one of the questions they have to answer, otherwise they have failed.

Finally, some broader points were raised in the debate. Auto-enrolment was raised by my noble friends Lady Drake and Lady Donaghy, the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, and others. I would be interested to hear why the Bill has not addressed issues such as minimum contribution rates, age thresholds, income thresholds or the extension of auto-enrolment to the self-employed.

My noble friend Lady Bryan of Partick made another passionate plea for the WASPI women born in the 1950s who lost out so much when the state pension age was equalised so sharply. My noble friend Lady Drake raised the important issue of the lack of a credit for carers in auto-enrolment. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s reply. My noble friends Lady Warwick of Undercliffe and Lord McKenzie of Luton raised the important issue of the role of superfund consolidators. As noble Lords will know, they offer to take over DB schemes, thereby relieving the sponsoring employer of any future responsibility, but at a cheaper price than entering the more secure insurance buyout market. That of course poses a risk of regulator arbitrage. Can the Minister update the House on the Government’s current thinking on DB scheme consolidation? This is an issue now and it will become more so.

My noble friend Lady Donaghy, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and others talked about wider issues around the changing nature of the pensions landscape: inequality, the climate emergency and other issues and the way future policy is shaped. I thought the noble Viscount’s comments about the 100-year time span and his future matrimonial plans were interesting. It is a reasonable guide to what we are thinking about and how challenging it is. Have the Government given thought to the best way to shape pensions policy going forward, given how long-term it is? Is a pensions commission the way forward, or are there other ways in which they should do it? I will be interested in their thinking.

We have much to explore in Committee, and I urge the Minister to come armed with detail. Concerns were expressed in the House last week that the Government had refused to engage with any amendments to the EU withdrawal Bill. We all hope that that was a Brexit thing and that now we are on to other legislation we will not see a similar response. It really matters because this is precisely the sort of legislation on which this House adds real value. There is broad agreement on the principles, but there are huge dangers lurking in the detail. That is what we are for. It is almost the definition of a revising Chamber such as this. Those dangers have to be flushed out before the Bill is sent to the other place. So I urge the Government to listen as they may find that, once again, in those circumstances, this House serves not only to protect consumers but to protect the Government from themselves. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Debate

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Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting : House of Lords
Monday 24th February 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Pension Schemes Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 4-II Second marshalled list for Grand Committee - (24 Feb 2020)
Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey
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I should like to ask one or two questions about the buffer concept. It seemed to me that a lot of what was being described was the equivalent of a buffer in some ways, but it was not entirely clear how it would be produced, brought forward and exercised. It was not entirely clear to me whether the members of any proposed CDC scheme would be given a choice or say in whether the scheme should go ahead without buffers, as the RM scheme will, or whether it should include buffers. It seems to me that there is merit in consulting the workforce about which they prefer.

In paragraph 1.3 of the consultation response the Government said:

“We do not want to preclude or legislate against buffers in CDC schemes—there are perfectly good reasons why employers and workforces may wish to provide for a scheme that mitigates volatility in this way, and we agree that a buffered scheme could be appropriate in some circumstances.”


Those circumstances might very well include avoiding frequent and disconcerting changes in benefits but also the provision of wind-up or restructuring costs, even if that does somewhat impact intergenerational fairness. My request is for clarity about this cloud of assets or obligations that might substitute in some way for capital. I am not clear about how that will happen. It would be good idea to make sure that in any future schemes the workforce is consulted about whether or not they prefer a buffer.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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May I, too, seek clarification? I was not entirely sure what the Minister was saying about where the money could come from for a buffer. I think I understood her to say that the regulator would not approve a scheme unless the sustainability criteria had been met and that they could be met only if an adequate amount of money was placed in, for example, escrow. Is she saying that a scheme would be approved only if the regulator was satisfied that enough money had been provided up front by the sponsoring employer to fund the continuity options in the event of a triggering event? If so, why does she not simply accept this amendment? That is all it says.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I shall turn first to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. The funding of future inflation increases provides the headroom funding that is required. The answer to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, is yes, the money would be in an escrow account if needed.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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So could it never be the case that in the event of a triggering event, such as a wind-up, an employer pulling out or an employer downsizing, money would have to come from members’ contributions to fund the continuity option? I am sorry to push this, but this kind of clarity is important.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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Noble Lords must forgive me for turning to my friends. This is my first Bill. The answer to that question is no, it should not be.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
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Now I am confused. In the previous group, when we were talking in anticipation about buffers and intergenerational fairness, the Minister said that there would be headroom funding. I understood that to be up front, getting the scheme up and running, but the Minister then said that that was going to be spent. I do not think she said what it was going to be spent on, or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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I think this is a language question. The problem that my noble friend Lady Drake raised at Second Reading and which we are trying to raise here is not about a capital buffer to deal with the intergenerational questions of benefits and payments at a time. It was the equivalent in master trust regulations where the sponsoring employer has to put money up front in a safe place so that if things go wrong and the scheme collapses the fallout can be funded without raiding members’ benefits. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, is describing something slightly different.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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I hope I can intervene helpfully. This is allied to the issue of data. If a scheme has to wind up, the biggest cost is the administration, and the likelihood of a scheme with poor data records needing to take money from members’ pensions to meet the very high costs of administration when a scheme is failing is much greater. That goes back to the original reason for suggesting that we need a buffer that can cater for the disaster scenario. It is like an insurance policy so that if things have gone horribly wrong with that scheme, members do not potentially end up with no pension because there is something that we have set up from the beginning that can help fund the costs involved and there are systems and processes to check regularly that data are correct along the way which would mitigate the costs of going back over many years and trying to resurrect records.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I think this shows that it is important that we understand what the statutory instruments in this area are going to look like. It will obviously lead to a clearer conversation if the Government are able to move on that. The second thing is that, in my experience, things do not necessarily go the way you expect. When I sought my pension estimate before I retired, I ended up a year later getting a less generous pension than I had anticipated, perhaps because things had changed on the underlying demographics—health or whatever. We have to be quite careful to take account of the complexity of these things in the sorts of SIs that we make. Clearly, we need to consult on them for that very reason.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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On a final point of clarification, if I have heard the Minister correctly—and I will read the record—I think she is trying to reassure us that she will consult and that this will be dealt with in regulations. The problem is that Clause 14(4)(b) states that regulations may include provision,

“specifying requirements to be met by the scheme relating to its financing, such as requirements,”

et cetera. All this amendment does is insert the words, “or by an employer”, because of the concern that the Bill may allow regulations to be made requiring the scheme to put money in. We want to be sure that the Bill will require the employer, rather than the scheme, to provide the money. That is why the amendment is written as it is, accepting that the Government will have to work out what is in the regulations and then what the regulator actually did as a result. Are the Government confident that the wording of the Bill will allow them to place a requirement on the sponsoring employer to do what the Minister has described?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I am advised that we are confident that that will be the case.

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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Would the Minister be kind enough to write in any case, clarifying the helpful points that she has made here? They came in bits, so it might be useful to have a note setting them all out together, if that would be okay.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I am happy to make sure that that happens.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I ask your Lordships to note that this is the first time I have tabled an amendment in Committee, so please forgive any infelicities in my procedural approach. I would appreciate any nudges in the right direction, should I need any. In speaking to this and other amendments bearing my name, I note the assistance and initiative of the campaign group ShareAction, which has helped with what I am about to say and the amendments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said earlier that in setting up CDCs we are starting with a blank slate. We are starting in the modern era. This is the chance to do things right. Many of your Lordships are aware of the numerous studies showing that more diverse groups of decision-makers make better decisions. If the trustee boards of the CDCs reflect the diversity of the wider groups of people they represent, their collective life experiences will improve their capacity to understand the unique challenges faced by different pension scheme members. Pension outcomes are affected by issues such as gender, ethnicity and, as we referred to in an earlier amendment, generational equity. I am sure there is a great deal of expertise on pensions in this Room. Many noble Lords will know that the gender pension gap is currently 40%—twice the gender pay gap.

I warn your Lordships that this amendment is very modest compared with many that I may put before the House. It is not calling for mandatory diversity rules. If we were talking about the composition of major company boards, I have long been a campaigner for mandatory rules on gender diversity on those. These are measures aimed to ensure that CDC trustee boards are fit for the modern era and that they have at least considered these issues of diversity that we know are so crucial to good decision-making. These are a new type of pension scheme. Let us make sure they are fit for this century. I beg to move.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for raising this issue and for starting so gently with us—we look forward to seeing where she will take us in future. We do not get much excitement on pensions Bills, so we are looking forward to her giving us some.

I am glad that the noble Baroness raised diversity, because it is something that we are certainly concerned about, as most people interested in pensions should be. She is not alone in raising these concerns; the Pensions Regulator raised them, too. It published a consultation document last year on the future of trusteeship and governance, in which it made a strong case for the need to improve diversity in pension boards. It made many of the points that the noble Baroness raised about the size of the gender pensions gap, but it also flagged up the gap that those who are disabled or from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background have poorer pension outcomes than other workers.

A lack of diversity on pension scheme boards has long been acknowledged as a problem. The 2016 PLSA annual survey found that, on average, schemes had more than 83% male trustees, with one-quarter of trustee boards being all-male. We are not talking about these things not being entirely balanced. If in this day and age a quarter of trustee boards are all-male, something needs addressing.

The idea behind the noble Baroness’s Amendment 12 is that schemes should report on the action that they are taking to address diversity. It does not even mandate an outcome; it asks simply, “What are you doing about it?” In fact, TPR put that option in its consultation document. It said in response to the consultation that opinion was divided, pretty much down the middle, with half the people thinking that this was a good idea and the other half thinking that it was a bad idea. Therefore, it decided not to do it.

Obviously, I could make an alternative argument based on those same facts, but I just want to ask the Minister: if not this, then what and when? The back-up position from TPR was that it was going to have an industry working group to look at improving the diversity of scheme boards. Will that go ahead? If so, has it launched or when will it launch? Crucially, how will we know whether it works? What would success look like? If we are not going to ask people even to report on the actions they are taking, we would want to know that the alternative will make a difference. If TPR and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, are of one mind in saying not only that the lack of diversity is a problem but that more diverse boards make better decisions—and they are making decisions about diverse scheme membership—this is an issue on which the Government have to take some kind of action. So if not this, then what?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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My Lords, the two amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, to Clauses 46 and 119, both relate to issues of diversity and protected characteristics.

I will speak first to Amendment 12. I note that the aim of Clause 46, which contains requirements relating to the publication of information concerning CDC schemes, is to drive transparency about how they operate. The noble Baroness’s amendment would require CDC schemes to provide diversity information to the Pensions Regulator on what actions the scheme has taken to ensure diversity with regard to age, gender and ethnicity in its trustee recruitment. As we heard from the contributions, particularly that of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, there is work to be done on this.

We recognise the importance of diversity in trustee boards, not just for CDC schemes, but across all trust-based schemes. Indeed, the Pensions Regulator has recently published its response on the future of trusteeship consultation, which considered specifically whether there should be a requirement for pension schemes to report to the regulator what actions they are taking to ensure diversity on their board of trustees.

The response to the consultation advised that there was a lack of consensus on this issue, as has been referred to, with some respondents in favour of it and others suggesting that there were initiatives already in place or that such a reporting regime would place an unnecessary additional burden on schemes. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked, “If not this, then what?” I can tell her only that the regulator concluded that

“it would be beneficial to create an industry working group”

to further investigate raising the profile of this important issue, with a view to developing additional guidance and supporting material to help improve the diversity of trustee boards. So, I think that will happen. As I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, I would not want to pre-empt this significant work, but we will keep it under review and consider it further as it progresses.

The Government’s focus on the trustee landscape, including for CDCs, is to ensure that trustees meet standards of honesty, integrity and knowledge appropriate to their role. I think that employers and members participating in these schemes would reasonably expect that to be the case.

Together with Clause 9, Clause 11 means that the Pensions Regulator must be satisfied that the persons involved in the CDC scheme are fit and proper persons to act in relation to it. If the regulator is not satisfied, authorisation of a CDC scheme cannot be granted. We recognise that if we want to engender confidence in CDC, and ensure that the interests of members are protected, it is vital that the schemes be managed by appropriate individuals.

On Amendment 15, relating to pensions dashboards, again the Government recognise the importance of diversity on trustee boards. However, we have had to consider what information to prioritise as being required from day one. As we set out in the Government’s response to the consultation on pensions dashboards, the intention is to start with the provision of basic pensions information. This initial information is intended to help consumers plan for their retirement, in line with our primary policy objectives.

The success of dashboards is predicated on there being a good level of coverage across pension schemes. Achieving good coverage is a complex task. There are over 40,000 pension schemes, with data varying in quality and stored to different standards. The Government expect that it will take three to four years for there to be adequate coverage, with pension schemes initially providing simple levels of information. Increasing the amount and complexity of information required from pension schemes in the early stages may significantly delay delivery. The development of dashboards will be iterative, and we will continue to consider what information is placed on them following their initial delivery to the public.

TPR has not launched the working group yet, and its timescale is not confirmed, but we will monitor the situation. For the reasons that I have given, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment, but I am sure that she will never let up on her campaign.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
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My Lords, I am sorry to rise again but I did warn the Committee. I agree that it is necessary to look again at the precise wording. I do not think that “recklessly” is covered, and it should be. It may well be a solution to remove trustees from the scope.

I want to address the concerns I have about defining “reasonable excuses”. Sometimes you can end up forcing unintended interpretations that can work both ways, either giving loopholes to bad behaviour or unintentionally limiting the scope of excuses. That means, if you like, it can work for the prosecution or the defence, but it means you do not get what you thought you had got. If anything is specified or picked out as an example, it needs to be clear that it may not be binding in all circumstances and that the examples are not an exhaustive list, so that if something else is brought forward as a defence it is legitimate for it to be considered.

There are certainly regulators that have fallen into the trap of too many guidelines. The FRC was criticised in the Kingman report for the detrimental effect on reporting and audit of too many guidelines, resulting in boilerplate recitations rather than thoughtfulness. In this subject, we are also interested in thoughtfulness and people thinking about what they are doing. We debated the FCA report into GRG in the Chamber on 27 June last year, and the FRC gave a line-by-line report of how its published interpretation of “fit and proper” had greatly narrowed what in my personal experience was always held out to be a wide-in-scope basic test. It was even described to me by some people as our version of “unconscionable conduct” in that bad conduct would not be fit and proper and that was the way in which we went about getting bad behaviour. However, in the GRG case and the report from the FRC we found that not to be the truth because of the guidelines and training that were put around those words. So what we do here needs to be done with care.

Concerning Amendments 19 and 20, it should not be a reasonable excuse to do something just because someone else has or might have done it. That is an excuse for a race to the bottom and to disengage from responsibility. It is reasonable to have regard to market practice but the competitive urge to do what others do or to push it a bit further has to be resisted—such behaviour was among the causes of the financial crisis.

I fully accept that there are difficult matters to balance for business; these are in part explored in later amendments relating to dividends. Perhaps the law has not been clear enough so far about what are the right priorities; in the past, pensions have been put at the bottom of the pile, with deficits paid down slowly and surpluses raided and holidays taken rather more eagerly, with a lax attitude when the company is generally well capitalised. That has been the wrong message. I believe it is now the right time to clarify that obligations rank ahead of options in the balance of legitimate interests and call on capital.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 35 in my name and respond to the debate on the other amendments. In doing so, I remind the Committee of an historic remunerated interest as the former senior independent director of the Financial Ombudsman Service.

At the outset, I say that we on these Benches place a high priority on ensuring that the regulator has the powers and sanctions that it needs to tackle bad behaviour in the operation of pension schemes. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles: conduct that puts at risk the assets that people have worked for all their lives is serious behaviour indeed. It can have a dramatic effect on the lives of millions of people and push them, in the end, into a retirement based in penury rather than the security that they could have reasonably expected. Of course, allied to that is a public policy interest: it may discourage people from saving if they do not feel that the vehicles are secure and that their money will be safe. So we welcome the introduction of the new offences and the focus on preventing bad behaviour and stepping in before the consequences get too serious or, even, the situation becomes irrecoverable.

In the Committee, at Second Reading and outside, I have heard some concerns about the Bill’s drafting, especially around what reasonable behaviour is and what conduct causes material detriment. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, expressed that point well. I accept that there is a balance at stake here and that the drafting must strike a balance. It is right to expect those charged with managing or overseeing pension funds to do so with appropriate skill and knowledge, and with care and integrity. However, I am also conscious that the Government would not want inadvertently to discourage good, capable people from, for example, serving as pension scheme trustees if they feared the unforeseen consequences of making reasonable judgments in good faith; nor would they want to foster unhelpful levels or types of risk aversion.

There is a need to have more clarity, for Parliament and the sector, as to how these provisions will operate in practice. Reading the impact assessment, it seems clear that the Government expect the criminal offences in particular to catch hardly anybody. It is based on one person a year being convicted, so the clear expectation in the minds of those drafting this is to have a nod that a safety net will go out—unless I have misunderstood, in which case please correct me.

Amendments 17 and 22 propose the formulation “wilfully, recklessly or unscrupulously”. I do not need to revisit this but I would be interested to know whether the Minister agrees with the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, in her probing approach on what that phrase means. Also, why did Ministers decide not to go with “wilfully” or “recklessly”? What did they think was changing between that and the formulation that they used in the Bill in the end?

The amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady Noakes, are interesting. I hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, regards the current reasonable test as being too low. Many people would regard the test that no reasonable person would do something as very high indeed. I wonder whether the Minister has a sense of how easy it would be for anyone to be convicted on a test of that nature. That is the judgment.

Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Pension Schemes Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 4-II Second marshalled list for Grand Committee - (24 Feb 2020)
Baroness Drake Portrait Baroness Drake (Lab)
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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.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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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.

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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.
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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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?

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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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.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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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?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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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.

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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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.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
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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.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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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?

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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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.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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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.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I thank the noble Baroness for this homework. I will ensure it is delivered to her and that it is accurate.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
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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.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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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.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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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.

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Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey
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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?

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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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.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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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.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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That is a very constructive suggestion from my noble friend. I will take it away with me.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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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?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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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.

Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Leader of the House

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 2nd March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Pension Schemes Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 4-IV Fourth marshalled list for Grand Committee - (2 Mar 2020)
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
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My Lords, I was not intending to speak to these amendments, but it has been quite an interesting debate to listen to. In some ways, I have changed my mind during the course of the debate. I found the notion of having everything all in one place, as put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Flight, an interesting idea. Of course, it can already be done, but for historic reasons—because I have been self-employed for most of my life, as has my husband, and we have quite a lot of pension schemes around—I am well versed on various different platforms. Yes, I do a lot of mystery shopping, as I call it, on these things. I have loaded up information and practised telling lies as well—putting in overvaluations of my house or saying what other things I have—to see how a platform projects what my income will be, so it is difficult to get right. I wonder about the house valuations that people might be tempted to put in, because there is a tendency to be optimistic when it comes to that.

In this last week, I was looking at one platform, thinking, “Where is the sell-all button for absolutely everything?” I could not do it; I had to go through several times, so I very much take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, that you will take the path of least resistance when there is something that you think is urgent. If I can fall for that kind of wanting something to be there, others will too, but when I went through everything and had to think, “Do I really want to sell that or don’t I?”, I made different decisions from those I might have made if I had had a sell-all, transfer-all button. Given that I like to think that I know a thing or two about these things, I would rather err on the side of caution, as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, pointed out. I do not want to interfere with people’s freedoms, but it has to be good to have a certain number of hurdles to give people a pause to think.

I tend to agree that equity release will have to be a big part of the future, and I wonder whether some of the people already taking out lump sums are thinking that way as well. Perhaps that is safer left until we can more broadly investigate what is going on there and make a rather safer and better environment, though I acknowledge that that there have been improvements that I have not tested yet.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to the three amendments in my name in this group and respond to the others. Amendment 39 in my name, and that of my noble friend Lady Drake, would, as she indicated, prevent the powers granted under the relevant sections of this Bill from being used to extend dashboards into becoming transactional. My first question, therefore, is whether that is necessary: will transactions be permitted? The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said last Wednesday:

“We also intend all dashboards to start with a limited functionality until we better understand how individuals interact with their information. ”—[Official Report, 26/2/20; col. GC 183.]


Does that rule out transaction? I think not specifically. The excellent policy brief from the DWP says this:

“Dashboards will present simple information, without the ability to carry out transactions.”


That seems really clear: no transactions. A bit later on, however, it says:

“In future we expect that dashboards should be able to provide a greater level of functionality and information.”


So here is the rub: does functionality include transactions? Will the Minister tell the Committee plainly: is it the Government’s intention ever to allow transactions at any point on the dashboards? If not, then let us make that clear on the face of the Bill. If they do, then, as my noble friend Lady Drake said, they should have to come back to Parliament and seek further authorisation before going down that road. The reason is simple: we are being asked to authorise the establishment of a service that will be based on the compulsory release of data about the assets of some 22 million people, with no clarity about what is being created.

In the debate on the last group of amendments last week, my noble friend Lady Drake offered the Committee a short list of some of the matters not yet resolved. The Minister—the noble Earl, Lord Howe—said:

“It is not that the policy is not settled but that the implementation of the policy is not settled.”—[Official Report, 26/2/20; col. GC 190.]


Obviously, it depends where one thinks policy stops and implementation begins. If the policy is, “Have at least one dashboard with some pension information on it”, I acknowledge that the policy is settled. If it is much beyond that, we are into murkier water.

Let me add my shortlist of a few things we do not yet know. We do not know how many dashboards there will be. We do not know who will run them. We do not know what information will be provided on them or in what form. We do not know what uses of the information will be permitted. We do not know how the whole system will be governed and regulated. We do not know where liability will lie for each of the links in the chain. Without that, we do not know how complaints about failure and compensation for detriment arising at each point will be handled. We do not even know who will get to make rules for the dashboards, because the regulations provide for that to be literally anyone.

There are so many points in the information and action chain where something could go wrong: data loss or leakage; errors in data being supplied to the dashboard, by either the state, TPR-regulated schemes or FCA-regulated firms; compliance failures in displaying it inappropriately; transactions on or off screen, regulated or unregulated, where the consumer ends up with a poorer outcome than should have been the case.

Last week, the Minister defended the proposed delegated powers, saying to my friend Lady Drake that they were needed to provide momentum to the process of co-operation that would be required to develop the dashboard infrastructure. But the Constitution Committee addresses that specifically in its comments on Part 4 and the use of broad regulation-making powers. It said:

“There is a need for some of these powers in order to commence the work on pensions dashboards and facilitate the sharing of data to make them function. However, 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. We have observed previously that ‘Skeleton bills inhibit parliamentary scrutiny and we find it difficult to envisage any circumstances in which their use is acceptable. The Government must provide an exceptional justification for them’”.


Can the Minister tell us what the exceptional justification is?

The case for not allowing regulations to be made under the Bill to allow transactions is overwhelming. Having thought about it over the weekend, I now think it is even stronger than when we tabled the amendments, because the debate in Committee last week surfaced more information about the Government’s plans for dashboards. We have learned that they are committed to MaPS providing a dashboard service, but we also learned that they are open to anyone who can meet the criteria running a qualifying dashboard and that they have no idea how many people that will be.

We learned that the Government think that having multiple dashboards running right from the launch would actively be a good idea because they think it would increase reach, and we learned that they are relaxed about commercial dashboards being there first and MaPS coming in, if necessary, some time later. If MaPS took a long time to get a dashboard up and running, which is not impossible, there could be years in which the only way the consumer could view the data on her own pension, the release of which the Government had mandated, would be on a commercial dashboard. I asked the Minister last week if the Government think that it is a good thing to have a public dashboard, and if so why. I ask him that again now. If he thinks it is a good thing, why are the Government relaxed about there potentially being a period of years when there is no public dashboard yet the mandated data has been released? I should be interested to hear the answer to that.

Also last week, the Minister said that accessing the information on dashboards will remain free. That is good news, but it means that, as my noble friend Lady Drake said, we need to understand the charging model of commercial dashboards. If they cannot charge you to look at it, why would they do it unless they can make money at it some other way? We need to understand what those other ways are. I do not know; I can only speculate. Are they hoping to find a way to monetise the access to data that the dashboard gives? Would that be allowed? Will they want to use the dashboard to show a consumer her various assets and encourage her to consider a more efficient way of organising them? For example, “Look, it is all spread over here. Would it not be tidier if you brought it all over in this fund over here, which—oh look?—my firm happens to run?” That way, the firm might stand to make money either from transactions or from the scheme itself. What about through advertising? Perhaps when a user logs on to her dashboard, up pops an advert that either encourages her to engage with a firm or asks, “Have you thought about equity release? Would not that be a better way of going about what you do?” Or even, as my noble friend said, there could be careful presentation of the data that seems to privilege some kinds of assets over others, depending on who is running the scheme. This is potentially a really powerful tool and we need to place some firm limits on its use until the market is much clearer.

Amendments 49 and 50, in my name, specify that regulations may require the provision of information on likely retirement income and administrative charges. I put these out as probing amendments to find out what information will be on the dashboard. What will consumers see? Without an estimate of their likely income on retirement, many consumers who do not have the skills and knowledge of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, may have no idea of what the size of a fund will mean in terms of an income on retirement, and without some guide they may struggle to understand that. Often, it should be possible to provide that, because for occupational DC schemes that are used for auto-enrolment, trustees must produce a chair’s statement with value-for-money assessments which include illustrations on the likely retirement income. Presumably, if schemes are doing this properly, that data can be uploaded to the dashboard.

There should also be transparency on charges, but the presentation of charges to members often does not distinguish between the many kinds of charges that can be levelled on a fund. This amendment would require the disaggregation of investment and administration charges, so individuals could readily see the administrative charges that they face on the scheme in which their savings are held. Schemes can differ a lot in their administrative efficiency, and consumers should be able to see at a glance which schemes are levying high administrative charges.

Can the Minister confirm that this information—indeed, the requirement to be on the dashboard at all—will not apply to any legacy private schemes or new private pensions not covered by auto-enrolment? That leaves out quite a chunk of the market where transparency would be particularly important because a lot of those old schemes are very inefficient, with very high charges. Do the regulations permit the Government at some point to force those schemes to come on board? If so, do the Government intend to use that power?

I understand that any dashboard developed by MaPS would have a liability model developed alongside it. I asked about the liability model and the Minister said that he would come back to it this week; I cannot remember if he is coming back to it now or later, but I look forward to hearing about it at some point today. That would be marvellous. I would also like him to answer this question: if it is to be developed alongside the MaPS dashboard, and that is delayed, will there none the less be a liability model in place before any dashboard goes live, so that we are not waiting for the public dashboard?

Amendment 57, from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, requires that the projected state pension on retirement be available on the dashboard. It is important that people can readily access information on the state pension, which for many of them will be a core part of their retirement income. The challenge is that it will change at different points in their life depending on choices made, working patterns, et cetera, but it seems quite hard for the DWP to mandate everyone else to provide their data, and not do it themselves. It will have to go into that space.

After the comments between the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, I am interested to hear the Minister’s response on questions of identity verification. I found his comments on the challenges of some of the services very interesting. I take her point that, if one is to get personal data, some verification process will be needed. His points about beneficiaries are important as well.

I am a little more nervous on the point about equity release. The FCA has just started to look into this market. The noble Lord, Lord Flight, said that it has cleaned itself up, and certainly some practices which were standard 10 years ago, such as negative equity, are no longer standard. However, there are still a lot of questions about this, and a number of people are concerned that we are seeing patterns of commission-driven decisions; these have raised concerns in other markets in the past. Certainly, if any noble Lord has the misfortune to find themselves self-isolating for coronavirus and watching daytime television, they may at some point see advertisements for equity release, because a lot of advertising on this is going out in different forms.

One of the main arguments for having all the bits of pension on the dashboard is that you know where they are. Most people, even if they do not have the expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, know where their house is, are reasonably confident that it is there, have some idea of its value and could find out readily if not. I take the point about people wanting to look at the whole of their assets, but, given some of the nervousness around this market, before we dive too firmly into that area I would be interested in the Minister’s view on this—as I am in in his view on all the amendments.

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Baroness Drake Portrait Baroness Drake
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Perhaps I may put three questions to the Minister in response to his comments. First, he opened by pointing out the overwhelming support for the dashboard that was evident in the consultation; I have no argument with that. Does he accept that the consumer focus groups, taken in the broadest sense, actually lined up behind the Government’s starting with a public-owned dashboard and had quite strong views about proceeding without one? Does he accept that when one disaggregates the responses to the consultation, that is a correct summary? I am quite happy to name the organisations on which I base that view.

Secondly, the Minister actually gave a very good explanation of why one should not run into transactions on the dashboard: not just because of the technical and IT requirements to building a safe dashboard, but because of the whole behavioural market- weakness issues that come into play. However, I do not think I heard him say that, as a result of recognising that, the issue would come back to the Houses of Parliament through another Bill before proceeding to transactions. That was the assurance. I do not think that simply a discussion on regulations would meet Parliament’s need to scrutinise such a big transition. To push again, will he confirm that the Government would need to come back to Parliament before proceeding to transactional activity?

Thirdly, the Minister mentioned delegated access, about which I am deeply concerned. I have no issue with MaPS having delegated access, because it was set up on a certain basis where it was implicit that the dashboard would improve the efficiency of the guidance service. Financial advisers are an issue of some substance. The FCA’s report and actions on the market in financial advice to pensioners is not good reading. Just by September 2018—and the up-to-date figure will be greater—the transfer advice in DB covered assets worth £82.8 billion. In terms of the recommended product, the regulator found 35% were suitable, 24% were unsuitable and 40% were unclear. They produced other reports to express their deep concern. I put a simple question: in the case of Port Talbot, if advisers did not advise those steel-workers well and delegated access to all their pension-pot assets, how great would the detriment have been to those steel-workers? It is not a principle that delegated access may be given to advisers at some point when there is a high level of confidence down stream, but evidence provided by the regulator—not anecdotal evidence from me—says that this market is not working well, which fills it with deep concern.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I want to ask a couple of questions so that the Minister does not need to come back to us twice.

My noble friend Lady Drake powerfully picked up the points on transactions that I wanted to make. I heard the Minister say that the Government’s intention is to proceed to transactions at some point—I would be grateful if he could correct that if I misunderstood—but I did not hear him say why they feel that this is a good idea. I heard him say carefully that they would want assurances to protect consumers, but I did not hear anything about the positive driver for doing so that outweighs the risks that manifestly come with it, which my noble friend just articulated.

I apologise; I have two more questions. I should say that I am hugely grateful for the Minister’s thorough response; I appreciate him taking the time to give us that. It may be that, in all that, I missed the answers to a couple of my questions; I apologise if he gave them and I did not pick them up.

First, am I right in understanding that the dashboard will not cover legacy private pensions and new private pensions not covered by auto-enrolment? If so, do the regulations, as they stand, allow those to be included subsequently, and do the Government have any views on whether they were going to do so?

The Minister touched on my second question but did not answer it. On Wednesday, he said that

“we entirely understand the importance of having a dashboard run by a public body without any commercial interest.”—[Official Report, 26/2/20; col. GC 182.]

Why do the Government think that that is a good idea? Why are they not worried that there could be a long period when there are only commercial dashboards and no public dashboard?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, on the final point made by the noble Baroness, it is fair to say that our debate last Wednesday gave my colleagues and me considerable food for thought as to the scheduling of all this. The strong wish expressed by noble Lords to prioritise a publicly funded and owned dashboard was duly noted. I hope to provide her with further thought on this as we go forward. I will come back to her in writing on her specific question on the inclusion of auto-enrolment schemes and so on.

The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked whether the consumer groups expressed a particular preference for the MaPS dashboard coming before any others. I bow to her on that. I will have to check whether that is a fair reading; I do not doubt that it is if she says so. I do not have the specific information to hand. The majority of respondents suggested and supported multiple dashboards, not just one. I can only repeat that the rollout of dashboards will be considered as part of a carefully controlled implementation plan.

I do not believe that I expressed a categorical government intention to include transactions on the dashboard. I said that we would make that incremental step only after the most careful consideration and public consultation, and assessment of all the risks. I freely acknowledge that risks exist in that quarter. If we venture into that sphere relating to dashboards, we must be absolutely certain that the risk of abuse, scams, misleading nudges and so forth is as minimal as it can be. Each incremental step will require further parliamentary scrutiny. The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, believes that this should be through primary legislation. I have to differ with her on that. We have made provision for secondary legislation by affirmative procedure, which provides a good measure of parliamentary scrutiny, preceded by public consultation which will inform parliamentary scrutiny. She and I have to part company in this area.

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Lord Hutton of Furness Portrait Lord Hutton of Furness (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 68. I put my name to it and raised the issue at Second Reading in the Chamber. We have had a long debate this afternoon, and I think most of us are pretty clear that pension dashboard services are going to provide a significant service to pension scheme members. We might be able to track down £20 billion-worth of lost pension scheme assets, and we might be able to encourage more people to save for their retirement if it becomes clear to them through accessing a pensions dashboard that they may not be in possession of all the means they might wish to have in their retirement. However, we must not lose sight of one very important risk, which is that although I hope that pension dashboard services will bring significant advantages, they could also be the route through which potential harm is done to pension scheme members by bad or sharp commercial practice or whatever else. It is particularly important that we consider ensuring that a safety-first approach is adopted when it comes to the establishment of these new services.

I cannot think of anything more fundamental—this is what I think Amendment 68 is trying to flush out—or more important than to place on the shoulders of those responsible for running these schemes a duty to act in the best interest of pension scheme members. I am sure that through these regulations and other provisions a welter of regulation will bear down on to the shoulders of those services, but the idea is that they have a direct legal responsibility to pension scheme members to act in their interests when they are accessing data on the pensions dashboard. A very clear line of legal responsibility will go a very long way in establishing the right overall governance and attitude of mind that should be at work when these schemes come into operation. Those who are running pension schemes have similar fiduciary duties and therefore it is entirely appropriate. If this amendment is not accepted, there may be some other more effective approach. I hope the Government will give some consideration to how this further level of accountability and aid to the good governance of these new services is best advanced.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, the six amendments in this group in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton are probing amendments designed to get Ministers to reassure the Committee that there is a robust system of regulation and supervision for those involved in the dashboards. Rather than go through them one at a time, as there are overlapping amendments from other noble Lords, it might be easier if I simply ask the Minister to clarify some of the key aspects of the supervision and regulatory regimes which the Government have in mind.

I was delighted last week when the Minister indicated that the Government have acceded to the request from my noble friend Lady Drake and many others around the Committee:

“we shall be introducing a new regulated activity under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to reflect the provision of dashboard services.”

Hurrah, say I. That is marvellous. The Minister continued with only very slightly less certainty:

“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.”—[Official Report, 26/02/20; col. GC 183.]


I think we are being told that this means providing a dashboard service will be added to the regulated activity order. I am assuming that is what that means.

Those requirements in Clause 118 may include

“what … information is to be provided”

and

“how the ... dashboard service is to be … operated.”

They may also,

“require a dashboard service to comply with standards, specifications or technical requirements published … by ... the Secretary of State ... The Money and Pensions Service”

or another specified person. Crucially they may,

“require the provider of the pensions dashboard service to be a person approved … by … the Secretary of State … the Money and Pensions Service”

or another specified person. The last of those is crucial.

If running a dashboard service is to be an FCA-regulated activity, should that not mean that those running it have to be approved by the FCA—in which case, ought that not to be made clear? It could be another body, but the bodies named do not include the FCA. If the activity is on the ROA, does that mean that the FCA will then be able to use its full range of FiSMA powers of supervision and regulation on anyone providing dashboard services? Can the Minister further confirm that that would mean that complaints about anything to do with the dashboard could be made to the Financial Ombudsman Service?

This is the train I am trying to establish. It is great that the activities are regulated by the FCA. Will the people running it have to be FCA approved and therefore subject to the full range of FiSMA powers? It seems that that is where the real firepower is located. Alternatively, are the Government envisaging that a dashboard service might be run by an organisation that was not FCA approved, supervised or regulated? Would there be a real risk of consumer detriment if the FCA cannot use its full range of powers on anyone using a commercial dashboard?

Provision of information to a dashboard also needs to be subject to a scheme of regulation and compliance. Information will come from various sources. Will the provision of information from trust-based schemes to a dashboard be regulated by the TPR? What about the information provided from contract schemes? Will that come from via the FCA? Will it be directly under FCA supervision or by the fact that they regulate the firms providing the information? Who will oversee the provision of information from the state and make sure it is accurate? Where does the consumer go to complain about their data? At the moment, if a bank misuses your data, the ICO will deal with the bank, but the consumer will go to the Financial Ombudsman Service to deal with detriment. What will happen here?

My biggest concern is what will be done with data provided on dashboards and the potential for mis-selling. Amendment 68 would require that those providing dashboard services would have to act in the fiduciary interest of savers. My noble friend Lord Hutton just made a compelling case for that. Our argument is that this is a special situation where the state has mandated that consumers’ data should all be gathered together in one place. That is helpful, but it is a little like saying, “Rather than having them wandering freely across the hillside, all the lambs have been gathered into one pen”. In that case, you want to be pretty sure that there is a good lock on the gate and that anyone coming along pretending to be a shepherd can be spotted early and—“Stop. Enough of this analogy. Ed.” I think the point is made.

Because of this higher challenge, there should be a higher duty of care to the consumer. If an organisation running a dashboard service is regulated by the FCA, it will be subject to the “treating customers fairly” FCA standard, but this goes higher. It becomes even more important if it is possible that any of those people will not be subject to the full range of FCA supervision and regulation powers. There should be a duty of care to the consumer. We can see the benefit of gathering information/lambs in one place, but it of course makes the information/lambs much easier to access. Can the Minister give us some reassurance on those points?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, the amendments in this group are designed to ensure that consumers are placed at the heart of dashboards and that the Financial Conduct Authority is given responsibility for certain aspects of that. I say straightaway that I wholeheartedly agree with this aim. What I cannot agree with is the way of achieving it proposed in the amendments.

The Government are persuaded that a strong regulatory regime is key to maintaining public confidence in dashboards. There are existing powers which we will use to introduce a new regulated activity for dashboard providers. We can do this by amending the regulated activities order set out in Section 22 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. This will bring the provision of a qualifying dashboard service within the regulatory and supervisory the remit of the FCA. There is no need for the new dashboard-specific regulated activity to be in the Bill.

We are working with Her Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA to agree the nature and scope of the changes. Legislation amending the order will be brought forward in due course. I can also confirm that the Financial Services and Markets Act covers Northern Ireland, meaning that any new regulated activity would also extend to Northern Ireland. It is important to note that the new regulated activity will apply only to dashboard providers. Pension scheme trustees and operators are already within the regulatory remit of either the Pensions Regulator or the FCA. The requirement on pension schemes relating to the provision of information via dashboards will be set out in regulations and FCA rules pursuant to this Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked whether the FCA will be able to use its full range of powers; yes, it will. All the FCA’s existing powers will be available where a dashboard provider must be FCA-authorised. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, the Financial Conduct Authority has an existing framework to ensure that authorised firms take the interests of customers into account. The Government will again set out in regulations the conditions that a dashboard will have to meet. This will be supported by new, dashboard-specific regulated activity, as I have just explained.

Strong consumer representation on the industry delivery group, alongside new regulations and a new, dashboard-specific regulated activity, will ensure that the design is in the interests of consumers and that they are protected. The regulatory framework for the new regulated activity will be proposed in the FCA’s consultation on the corresponding handbook rules and guidance.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I believe that to be so but I need to take advice; I will write to the noble Baroness on that point.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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On a related point, I tried hard to listen to what the Minister said because I am particularly interested in whether somebody can run a dashboard service if they are not FCA-authorised. I heard him say that the full range of FiSMA powers could be used, so a dashboard must be FCA-authorised, but I think I heard him say also that only FCA-approved bodies can run dashboard services. Is that right?

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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Excellent. In that case, I am trying to relate that to New Section 238A(5)(c), to be introduced by Clause 118(2), on page 105 of the Bill. It states that requirements prescribed under subsection (2) may, in particular,

“require the provider of the pensions dashboard service to be a person approved from time to time by—

(i) the Secretary of State,

(ii) the Money and Pensions Service, or

(iii) a person specified or of a description specified in the regulations”.

If, as the Minister just said, the FCA must authorise someone to run a dashboard, does it not make more sense for a government amendment to come forward to make that clear in the regulations, rather than naming two bodies—neither of which is the FCA—and having a catch-all for the third?

While I am on my feet—hey, why waste an opportunity?—and the Minister reflects a little more on that point, I want to ask about the duty of care and the fiduciary duty. I take the Minister’s point about the wording there, but are the Government resistant to the underlying point made by my noble friend Lord Hutton and me: that, in these particular circumstances, there should be a higher duty of care to the consumer on the part of the organisation running the dashboard services than would be the case in the general mêlée of the FCA? Treating customers fairly and related things may suit that generic environment but this is a very particular circumstance; the Government have initiated this and put all this information in one place and mandated its release. If it were more felicitously worded, would the Government resist the notion of a higher duty of care in this circumstance than the one that prevails generally in FCA supervision?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I will certainly go away and consider that point, even if “fiduciary” is not the appropriate word, and look in conjunction with my officials at whether there is a mechanism that would achieve that aim without inventing some new legal status. I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, for their points.

The question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, boils down to this: if MaPS or another specified person sets the data standards, how will they be accountable to Parliament? As I said, the regulations enable parliamentary scrutiny and debate on any specific future proposal as they come forward.

We need to ensure that dashboards are fit for purpose over the longer term. That cannot happen in a summary way. Delegating the ability to set and update standards and technical specifications support through secondary legislation will, in our view, ensure that dashboards remain beneficial and relevant to consumers.

Our approach recognises that ownership of the dashboard infrastructure and the responsibilities for the setting of standards may need to change over time, but I reiterate that, taking into account the good practice that exists, the industry delivery group will develop and make recommendations on a robust liability model to ensure that there are clear roles and responsibilities in the event of a breach. That includes a clear consumer redress mechanism. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, the policy intent is that the FCA should authorise dashboard providers and that this should be achieved by order.

The FCA takes seriously the need to consult the public. It has a general duty to consult the public by publishing draft rules. This duty will apply equally in this case. The FCA will also consult the Secretary of State and Her Majesty’s Treasury prior to public consultation on draft rules. That will ensure that the rules have regard to the regulations that place obligations on trust-based schemes, which will provide a consistent and coherent approach.

We have covered quite a lot of ground, but I hope that I have effectively explained the role of the FCA in protecting consumers and provided the assurance that noble Lords are seeking that we will bring dashboard services within the FCA’s scope. If I have not covered all the ground, I hope that I can rely on meetings with noble Lords following Committee so that, by Report stage, I am able to come up with any further and better particulars that they seek. With that, I hope that for the time being the noble Baroness will feel comfortable in withdrawing the amendment.

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Baroness Drake Portrait Baroness Drake
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My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness’s amendment in wanting to set out in regulation, rather than rely on regulatory rules, some of the things that will be required to make the dashboard function well. I suspect that there are three drivers behind that sentiment. One is that, in this market, the providers are particularly dominant: there is not an equality of arms when it comes to seeking people’s opinion or influencing government policy. Secondly, the FCA itself recognises that it is very difficult to get a functioning market and that it needs to think more and more about intruding in controlling providers’ supply-side behaviour. Thirdly, although the Government understandably want to rely on consultation, those consultations can be dominated by the providers in this market.

Very often, some of the raw consumer issues somehow do not come to the surface and the consumer groups often do not have sufficient resources to do the kind of detailed analysis that a submission requires to pull out some of the fault lines when these things are looked at through a consumer perspective. Members of the public are not going to participate because they simply do not understand what the issues are in relation to their interests until they experience them. I therefore have a lot of sympathy, leaving aside the precise wording of this amendment. The Government need to understand that sense of those three sentiments that often drive many of these amendments: the providers are over-dominant; even the FCA recognises the need for greater intrusion on providers in the supply-side; and consultation is often not an effective remedy for sufficiently capturing the consumers’ interests. Therefore, the more that is put in regulation, the better.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for having opened up this territory. She is a creative inventor of amendments: she has drawn out here a good selection of the kind of things that regulations would need to cover. Will the Minister tell the Committee—whether or not he wants to accept this amendment—whether it is the Government’s intention to cover those matters within regulation? Are any of these items on the list matters that the Government think are inappropriate for regulations to cover them?

The noble Baroness also made a strong case in general for end-to-end regulation. The Minister has described the process that the Government are going through to develop a liability map. I presume that in this, there will also be a similar kind of regulatory map. There also needs to be a redress map to ensure that there are no gaps down the middle of all of those things. It is also particularly important that there is not a regulatory gap. In terms of redress, it is important that there are no gaps; if things overlap, that does not matter so much. For example, there are times when a pension complaint could go either to the Pensions Ombudsman or the Financial Ombudsman service. They judge things by slightly different criteria and in different ways: fair or reasonable versus the legal position. However, it does matter that nothing falls down the cracks. If a complaint is submitted to an organisation such as the Financial Ombudsman Service and there is any possibility that it is out of scope, firms will, and do, regularly take them to court to try to stop the complaint being heard, and exactly the same thing will happen with the regulators.

Therefore, it is really important that somebody has gone through the regulatory map incredibly carefully and made sure that either the regulator already has all the powers and the full scope necessary to cover all these matters or that it will be granted them. I am sure that that is already happening but it would be helpful if the Minister could reassure us about it.

My noble friend Lady Drake made a very strong point about both the drivers of the need for this change and the inequality of arms. The latter is also very strong on the advocacy side. Many times I have seen that there has been a lot of money behind those advocating on behalf of the firms but very little resource behind those advocating on behalf of the consumer. Therefore, it will be very important to make sure that one amplifies the voices that speak up for the consumer interest as well as those that speak for the provider interest.

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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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The noble Lord raises an important point which highlights that I have not necessarily covered all the areas to be dealt with on this. Including auditors and having a requirement for them to verify the accuracy of data is indeed another way of approaching the issue. I went to trustees and scheme managers widely, but auditors are another area which might be considered.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I do not want to say very much, but I have a couple of questions on the back of what the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has said.

Can the Minister tell the Committee a little about what the regulators and the Government are doing to ensure that companies are ready to clean up data ready for transferring to the dashboard? Is there any intention for providers to check that members recognise the accuracy of the data at any point? Regarding what the noble Baroness described, if data had been wrong for decades, perhaps the member would not have known the details, but they might have known if they were not in a scheme, were in a different one, or if the basics were different.

The Cheviot Trust said that it was concerned that deferred members’ data would be less accurate. Is this on the DWP’s horizon? If so, what is being done about it?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, I completely appreciate my noble friend’s desire to ensure that the information on the dashboard is accurate and secure. I absolutely agree that accurate information is essential to the effectiveness of a pensions dashboard. The answer ultimately must lie with appropriate regulations and sanctions. The Government believe that these protections are in existing regulations, and that the relevant regulators have the powers to intervene if compliance is not maintained. Having said that, I shall explain in a minute what work is going on in relation to this set of proposals.

In relation to personal and stakeholder pensions, rule 9.1.1 in the FCA’s senior management arrangements systems and controls sourcebook requires pension providers to

“arrange for orderly records to be kept of its business and internal organisation, including all services and transactions undertaken by it, which must be sufficient to enable the FCA … to monitor the firm’s compliance”.

If a scheme fails to meet these requirements, the FCA will select the most appropriate regulatory tool in the circumstances. Responses are proportionate and could include supervisory intervention.

Where enforcement action is deemed appropriate, the FCA aims to ensure that the sanction is sufficient to deter the firm or individual from reoffending and deter others from offending. Where it takes disciplinary action against a firm or an individual, it will consider all its available sanctions, redress and restitution powers, including public censure, financial penalty, prohibition, suspension or restriction orders; it has quite an armoury.

Regarding occupational pension schemes, trustees and managers are also required under existing legislation to put processes in place to ensure that the data they hold is accurate. Section 249A of the Pensions Act 2004 and the internal controls regulations 2005 require occupational pension scheme trustees to establish and operate internal controls that are adequate to ensure that the scheme is administered and managed in accordance with scheme rules and the law.

If a pension scheme fails to administer the scheme to a sufficient standard, or to comply with any other aspect of pensions legislation, the Pensions Regulator is able to issue an improvement notice. Where trustees fail to comply with an improvement notice, the regulator can issue a fine of up to £5,000 in the case of an individual or £50,000 in other cases.

My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, stressed the importance of promoting data quality on dashboards to scheme providers. Pension trustees and providers have been aware of our intention to introduce dashboards for some time now. We have been clear that they should start preparing their data now. The Pensions Regulator has increased its scrutiny of scheme records in recent years, and launched a specific targeted initiative in October 2019. It will take time to resolve data issues, which have in some cases been ongoing for decades, but the regulator is seeing good results from its engagement. There is still work to do, as my noble friend will be the first to agree.

An in-depth understanding of the challenges that pension schemes and providers will face in complying with compulsion is essential. The industry delivery group has therefore commissioned specialist independent and qualitative research. This will be conducted on a completely anonymous basis and will explore the challenges of meeting the requirements on data through deep-dive interviews with sample pension providers and schemes. This builds on the Pension Regulator’s insight. It will inform the delivery group’s recommendations for data requirements, taking into account the needs of different scheme types. It may be helpful to my noble friend if I note that, as part of the delivery group’s activity, a priority is to consider these specific items of people’s pensions data, which pension providers and schemes should supply for dashboard displays.

Experiences from other countries with dashboards indicate the importance of agreeing data standards with all industry stakeholders and the benefits of using the widest possible consumer research. The industry delivery group, working with its steering group, is developing a data-scope paper, which will highlight its latest thinking on dashboards’ data across the whole pensions industry. The IDG plans to publish this paper in due course, asking industry for feedback and, in particular, its provision of additional evidence where it exists.

The first iteration of the industry working group on data will effectively involve the whole industry before a small, focused working group will then refine this data thinking as we move on through the spring. I therefore hope that my noble friend can be reassured that the process that we have in mind has several stages to it, that they are logical stages, and that they should tease out the issues that she has very rightly drawn attention to in her remarks.

I hope that I have illustrated that the current obligations placed on schemes by the FCA and TPR, together with the enforcement powers which both regulators have, combined with the work that I have just described, are sufficient to ensure that the schemes will provide accurate data to the dashboard. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I want to ask a question before the Minister comes back on this. In her reply, she gave a rather forceful defence of the current situation and directed the Committee’s attention to the courts as a means of settling this. However, she made the point that an agreement on pension sharing may already be in place. The problem is that this allows an agreement that had previously been reached to be frustrated by someone taking advantage of the pension freedoms. If the Minister does not like the way that this is being is sold, will she go back to the department and ask for some advice on whether there is a problem here? Then, when we come back on Wednesday, we can at least have a conversation about whether we agree that there is a problem here, and then we can think about the best way to address it.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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The suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, is very helpful. I would be happy to do that before we come back to this on Wednesday.

Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 4th March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Pension Schemes Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 4-IV Fourth marshalled list for Grand Committee - (2 Mar 2020)
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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I think I am right in saying that the argument for not proceeding was that there was no consensus around the aims or the remit. What attempt have the Government made to achieve consensus?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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The best answer I can give is that I will find out and write to the noble Baroness, because I do not have that information at the tip of my fingers.

The Bill will deliver further improvements, including strengthening consumer protections, improving scheme governance and communications, and facilitating the creation of pension dashboards. We will continue to review these improvements, including a contribution that a pensions commission could make in future. I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, to withdraw his amendment.

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to ask a few questions on the back of that. I thank my noble friend Lady Drake and the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, for raising these issues. It is good to hear some attention being given to the fact that we have a significant problem about women and pensions. I would have liked to see the Bill take the opportunity to do something for the women born in 1950s who lost out so much when the state pension age was raised so sharply. Given that it has not done that, at least the calls for review may give an opportunity to look at the wider range of issues.

The statistics we have heard are really quite stark. If there is that huge a gap in pension wealth between men and women, the situation will only get worse. It is clearly something that the Government need to do something about.

I want to pick up on a couple of specifics. One is the issue of people with multiple jobs below the earnings threshold. This is the point at which I miss most acutely my friend Lady Hollis of Heigham, who raised this at any given opportunity. I feel that her memory is forcing me to do so now, otherwise I could not go back to my office and sit down with any peace. I ask the Minister to comment on that. We see people with multiple jobs—many are women, of course—none of whom make the threshold but who would be over the threshold if their incomes were added up, not getting into auto-enrolment. I worry that this group will keep rising as a result of part-time working and zero-hours contracts. Even the DWP, for example, encourages those on universal credit to take extra jobs to top up their hours or income. What are the Government doing about this? Do they have a sense of the scale of the problem and the direction of travel?

Secondly, I want to say a word about my noble friend’s case on carers. Clearly, women are more likely to work part-time because of caring responsibilities. That is a clear issue for public policy. A society needs women’s reproductive capabilities and their caring work. Women, in turn, deserve to be able to live adequately in retirement. I was delighted to hear my noble friend detail how we got here, not just because I probably have more of an appetite for social security detail than is strictly socially acceptable. If we do not take the time to work out how we got here, we will lose this in future. Those rights were hard-won. It took a long time, step by step, to get the caring responsibilities of women recognised in all parts of the state pension system; then they somehow got lost in the Government’s reforms. I am sure that that was not the intention and I have no doubt that the Government will come back and say, “Yes, but people will get these bigger amounts and more of them will get a full pension”, but that makes no difference. One would get those whether one was a carer or not. They have still lost any recognition of those caring responsibilities in the second state pension. Have the Government looked at the idea of a carer’s top-up, which has been around for a while? If so, what is their response to it? If they do not like it, what is their proposal for addressing this issue?

On Monday, we discussed in Committee Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. It recommended that a member of a scheme should not be allowed to use the pension freedoms to transfer out without the consent of his or her spouse or civil partner. I asked whether the Minister would go away, talk to the department, take some advice and return to it during today’s debate, which she kindly agreed to do. Can the Minister give us a reaction? Has the department established that there is an issue, and what is it doing about it? That would be really helpful.

My noble friend Lady Drake said the gender pay gap will not close until 2050 and pension parity will therefore not be reached until something like 2100. We just cannot wait that long. This is a matter of public policy, economics and societal need, but it is also a basic issue of justice. What are the Government going to do about it?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, the amendments tabled in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Janke and Lady Drake, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, all concern automatic enrolment into workplace pensions.

Amendment 87 would lower from 22 to 18 the minimum age at which a qualifying worker would be eligible to be automatically enrolled by making a change to the Pensions Act 2008.

Amendment 88 would require the Secretary of State to lay a report on the effectiveness of our pension reforms within six months of this Bill becoming law. That review would mandate government to consider the minimum age at which qualifying workers must be automatically enrolled, the minimum level of pension contributions and whether existing legislation offers sufficient opportunity for low-paid workers to save for retirement. The Secretary of State would then have to make a recommendation about whether to bring forward new legislation in the light of its findings.

Amendment 95 would make changes to the criteria for a qualifying worker in automatic enrolment, known as a jobholder. These would lower the minimum age for a worker to be automatically enrolled from 22 to 18, abolish the £10,000 automatic enrolment trigger and make pension contributions payable from the first £1 of earnings.

Perhaps I may begin with the proposed changes to the automatic enrolment criteria. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, would abolish the £10,000 automatic enrolment trigger. The Government review the operation of the trigger annually under the statutory automatic enrolment thresholds review. That approach means that a range of factors can be assessed, including affordability for employers and whether it pays to save for individuals. Since 2014-15, we have frozen the trigger at £10,000, which has expanded coverage each year due to wage growth. In the tax year 2020-21, this will see an extra 80,000 people brought into pension saving, of whom around three-quarters will be women. This is surely one policy area where we should aim to ensure that we proceed on the basis of sound evidence. We do not have evidence at this time that would support the abolition of the trigger. So, I am afraid that the Government cannot support this amendment.

Turning to the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, which would reduce the minimum age to 18 and require pension contributions to be paid from the first £1 of earnings, the Government’s 2017 review of automatic enrolment—Maintaining the Momentum —has already set out our next steps in this area. The core proposals are a reduction in the minimum age for being automatically enrolled to 18 and the removal of the automatic enrolment lower earnings limit.

Our review involved extensive engagement with interested parties, including consultation, and was supported by an expert advisory group. Its conclusions were robust and remain correct. However, we have also been clear that these ambitions must be subject to learning from the contribution increases and finding the right approach to implementation. The timetable cannot be forced without risking both the consensus that we have achieved and the very significant policy achievements that have, rightly, been lauded across this House. Therefore, again, the Government cannot support these amendments.

I turn now to Amendments 90 and 91, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and Amendment 96, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Janke. They relate to the gender pensions gap and automatic enrolment. Since the introduction of automatic enrolment, workplace pension participation for all women employed full-time in the private sector— not only those eligible for automatic enrolment—has increased from 35% in 2012 to 83% in 2019. This is now the same as the participation rate for men, compared with 2012 when the participation rate for men was six percentage points higher. Our aim remains to increase the level of retirement saving across all groups. The 2017 review ambitions strengthen the framework of workplace pension saving for lower-paid workers, many of whom are women working part-time. As I have already made clear about the implementation, we will remain guided by evidence.

Amendment 90 would require the Secretary of State to undertake a review within six months of passing the Bill. The review would consider how to legislate to provide automatic enrolment contributions to people with caring responsibilities as parents or carers, with reference to a target group.

The new state pension system—introduced for people who reached state pension age from 6 April 2016 onwards—took forward the existing national insurance crediting arrangements. These included the credits brought into effect by Section 23A of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. The majority of people providing care and those who build a qualifying year for their state pension through the carer’s credit are women. The design of the new state pension means that, on average, women, those in lower-paid work and self-employed people receive higher outcomes than under the previous system.

More than 3 million women stand to receive an average of £550 more per year by 2030 as a result of the recent reforms. Women benefit most from the new state pension. Average weekly state pension payments for women are £152.44 under the new system, compared with £135.24 under the previous system. Outcomes are projected to equalise with those for men more than a decade earlier than they would have done under the previous system.

Under the system that operated from 2010 to 2016, people who were caring for more than 20 hours a week could claim the carer’s credit for additional state pension in addition to building qualifying years of the state pension. The full rate of the new state pension is more than £40 a week higher than the full basic state pension. As a result, unless someone had received carer’s credits for the majority of the 35 years of national insurance needed for the state pension, it is unlikely that they would have been in a better position than they will be now under the new state pension.

A key objective of the new state pension was to increase outcomes for women and lower-paid earners, accelerating the equalisation of state pension outcomes for men and women. The new state pension is successfully achieving these objectives. The settlement made in 2016 is building a clearer, simpler foundation for people’s private pension saving and we do not intend to reopen it.

I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, is concerned that parents and carers who are not working will miss out on automatic enrolment. Most parents and carers will work before or after periods of caring, or will combine part-time work with caring. The introduction of automatic enrolment has helped workers to build on the foundation of the state pension, while implementation of the 2017 review measures will enable them to build up more savings when they are working, improving their financial resilience in retirement. The amount being saved would be transformative: a national living wage earner with a 10-year career break could see an 88% increase in their pot size at retirement.

Amendments 91 and 96 would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review within six months of the Bill becoming law, concerning the sex equality impacts of the current framework. I always read amendments carefully but, if I may speak on a slightly lighter note, Amendment 91—tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake—shows how important it is to read to the end of every sentence. When I first looked at it, I thought that it sought to ensure that the Secretary of State conducts a review of differences between men and women, which, it struck me, could be rather a lengthy exercise—but that is not the case at all. If one reads the amendment in full, it is a model of clarity in referring to a number of specified groups and I want to be serious in addressing it.

Amendment 91 would require the Secretary of State to make recommendations on how legislation and policy could correct any inequalities in automatic enrolment. Amendment 96 relates to the impact of public policy regarding pension schemes on women and the action being taken by government to close the pensions gap between men and women, with recommendations for possible further legislation.

The Government already carry out and publish a range of analysis and evaluation in relation to these matters, and benefit from valuable external evidence. The department currently evaluates the gender impact of changes to automatic enrolment policy on participation—in our annual thresholds review, for example, where this year we estimated that three-quarters of the employees made eligible by the freezing of the trigger were women. We measure and publish statistics on participation rates by gender. We carry out regular monitoring of the rates of stopping saving by gender. We also draw on a wide range of evidence across and outside government on the gender pensions gap, while working closely with the Government Equalities Office.

All that should, I hope, indicate to noble Lords that this is not a matter that we will just let drift and then monitor at some point in the future. We do so regularly as we go along, and in some detail. Outside of DWP’s evaluation of automatic enrolment—AE, if I may call it that—data and analysis of the gender pensions gap is produced from various sources across government. We will continue to draw on this evidence alongside our developing evaluation of AE, post phasing, to assess the impact of AE on the gender pensions gap.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I hope that the noble Baroness will not go away with that impression. We are aware that there is a gap to be bridged. The key point I would ask her to reflect on is that, despite the desire to go faster in this area, there is a risk in doing so. We have learned lessons from the phased approach that we have already adopted. It was the right approach. The gradual approach brought everybody on side. We gathered evidence in the process; we are still gathering that evidence, and the evidence-based approach is the other watchword to bear in mind.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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I will follow up a couple of questions that I asked the Minister: one was about mini-jobs, and I do not think that he responded to the other—I am sorry if I missed it—on the issue of spousal consent and pension freedom sharing. In Grand Committee on Monday, we were having a conversation about this. The Minister pushed back quite hard. I suggested that she go back to the department to establish whether there was a problem, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott said:

“The suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, is very helpful. I would be happy to do that before we come back to this on Wednesday”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. GC245.]


The reason I suggested that is that I knew we were going to have a debate on women’s pensions and therefore we could have it informed by some information. There is not much point in our having assurances if they do not happen. Is there anything to be said on that?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I understand from officials in the Ministry of Justice that there has been a relatively small number of cases where the pension scheme member has taken advantage of the pension freedoms to act in a way that frustrates the intention of an attachment order. However, I would like to establish what evidence there is of the scale of the wider problem, as outlined by my noble friend Lady Altmann and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, in our debate on Monday, before deciding on the appropriate government response. I can tell the noble Baroness that my officials will work with others across government to gather the available evidence.

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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, I add my support to many aspects of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. She is trying to do something very helpful for the Committee and the Bill. We have all expressed concerns about the wide-ranging powers in this Bill, which seem to go a lot further than normal for such Bills. I recognise that pensions Bills tend to have wide powers added to them, but it makes sense to identify areas where we would not wish the legislation to allow a Minister to do things that would normally come back to Parliament for our scrutiny or further legislation.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I, too, share the aspiration of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, to constrain somewhat the use of the extensive powers that the Government are blessing themselves through this Bill. I will not, however, reopen that debate in any great detail, although there is a temptation to say “We have another whole hour of Committee, we can debate this at great length”. The danger of a list is that some noble Lords will have concerns about particular aspects, such as constraining trustee power, while some will be in favour of multi-employer collective money purchase schemes. Most of us, however, would have reservations about the ability to amend primary legislation.

Although it may not feel as though Bills come along in super abundance, in the field of pensions it feels like they come along all the time like the number 19 bus, but I take the point. In fact, if we are going to have a list I would like to add to it: I would start with not allowing dashboards to do transactions without covering that in primary legislation. I have a long list in my notes which I will develop at length should we return to this. What might be helpful is if the Minister, in replying, would tell Committee whether the Government intend to do any of these things.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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My Lords, the question of delegated powers has already been extensively discussed in relation to the relevant clauses. My noble friend Lord Howe has already eloquently covered the Government’s position on these powers. As I said before to this Committee, the use of secondary legislation to set out more detailed technical matters, or to amend primary legislation for specified purposes, is consistent with the general approach in pensions legislation.

As with other pensions legislation, the provisions in the Bill embody the fundamental policy, while provisions of a more technical nature, or which are by their nature liable to change, are delegated to secondary legislation. This staged approach has two benefits. First, it enables flexibility to ensure that the legal framework remains appropriately tailored to developments in the pensions industry. Secondly, it enables government to provide legal certainty more quickly. This is important for the pensions industry and for member protection. It is a common feature of pensions legislation, which is by its nature very technical and can be subject to change.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
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I thank the Minister for her responses. Referring to the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, as to which of these the Government may be doing, I think the answer has come back: all of them. I will go through them.

With proposed new paragraph (a), to

“create a new criminal offence”,

I was not focusing on fine-tuning Clause 107. We are used to how fine-tuning of an existing offence is done. If you look at some other areas, such as sanctions and anti-money laundering, you will see that it is a new criminal offence every time a new sanction is created, but the framework for what has to be done to create such a sanction is laid out in the Bill. If the right kind of policy direction is given in the Bill, you can be allowed to do more. I beg to differ with the assumption that there are no powers here, when the Government can amend any enactment. It puts no restriction on what they may do, so I do not think there is any legal certainty around not creating something that is a completely new idea of a criminal offence.

I am pleased to hear that there is no power here to enable the creation of a regulator. I would be interested to look again at the Hansard from the first day of Committee, because under the requirement to

“confer a discretion on a person”,

the person can be a body corporate and the discretion was specifically referenced as “powers”, if I remember rightly. I would be happy to accept a Pepper v Hart statement that there is to be no creation of regulators, if the Minister felt able to make one.

It has been made clear that there is the intent to create multi-employer collective money purchase schemes. This worries me greatly: having looked at it further, I am now less than certain about the general benefits and there is a risk to pensioners and employees. So many of the points put forward over the four days of Committee debates show that we have not got sufficient guidance as to what that shape will be. It worries me quite a lot that although we cannot yet work out how to do it fully for one, we are going with the more risky multi-employer system.

The requirement to

“significantly restrict the powers of trustees”

is, I suppose, a trick point. If anything does not deserve to be in the list, it is that, but I have drawn out a debate around the point, as I hoped to. Perhaps we have to be able to do that, but maybe there is some other way to make sure that it is framed with care.

My amendment then comes back to the amending of primary legislation. This is a wide power and I know that it can be used usefully, but such wide powers are never based on a single regulation. An individual regulation that could amend or revoke primary legislation would mean that Parliament could then reject it without being accused of always throwing the baby out with the bath water and losing all the other good things in the regulations. That might be a more reasonable way to approach things, but we know that that is not how it happens: we find ourselves doing something that we do not like because it is a small element of a much bigger thing. It is always done when the Government can make the case that it is urgent and that it will be a total disaster if it is booted out.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way, especially as I am about to abuse her generosity by asking a more general question. It is directed across the table, and is something that I forgot to ask in my own contribution.

The noble Baroness asked for assurance on various points. At various times during the Committee, the Minister has kindly agreed to write to noble Lords. Can the Minister confirm that those letters will come before Report?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I can absolutely ensure that those letters will be with all Committee members before Report. We have debated these issues and I have listened to the concerns raised by noble Lords. We believe that all the powers are suitable and appropriate.

Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Pension Schemes Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 104-I Marshalled list for Report - (25 Jun 2020)
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, like other noble Lords, I appreciate the government amendments to make regulations by the affirmative procedure. Having thanked the Minister for that, I will move on to speak on noble Lords’ amendments.

Amendment 2, in the name of my noble friend Lord Sharkey, would delete reference to negative procedure regulations being used to change the rules around fit and proper persons. It has been laid out how that might change who becomes a fit and proper person. My question is: would it also affect who might not become a fit and proper person and potentially elaborate further if it is found that people are doing things that should disqualify them? I sense that that might be a possibility. Although, under Clause 11(3)(b), regulators can take into account other such matters as they consider appropriate—I presume that that can be in the negative sense as well as the positive—it would be useful to know whether such powers in other areas as well as this are, in general, used. I detect that regulators are often reluctant to go beyond things that they can specifically point to in regulations. If that is the case, maybe the Minister has an excuse to have these powers. That is the area that I am interested in, but it would certainly be a much more significant move for this to be made by the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure.

The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has tabled an amendment about data that I support, but like her I think that it is probably best to have just one debate on data. I will make my intervention on that later.

I also support the intention of Amendment 33 on diversity. I recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, did, that it links to the wider issue of how trustees are appointed and where from. Many trustee appointments will link back to present or former workforces and therefore carry through any historical lack of diversity for quite a long time. Despite the fact that there might be costs to professional trustees, I still think that there should be scope to ensure that there are more additional independent external trustees, without necessarily going to people who are so embroiled in the making of regulations. It should be possible to find objective people who are not necessarily charging the equivalent of full professional rates.

Finally, my Amendment 45 is a simple one that says that regulations may not create a regulator. That might not be the intention, but Clause 51(3)(a) says that regulations may

“confer a discretion on a person”.

A discretion to do what: to allow, not allow or approve certain things? What kind of things and what kind of person? That could be wide enough to allow or disallow the doing of things regarded as being a regulator, yet there are none of the constraints in the Bill that would normally appear in such circumstances. I therefore seek some clarification about what “discretion” means and what powers it might conceal or cover.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I should declare a historical pecuniary interest as a former independent director of the Financial Ombudsman Service. I should also declare that my home is in Durham so I have often visited Barnard Castle, but solely for the purpose of visiting the wonderful Bowes Museum. My eyesight is okay for the moment. I will save my remarks on data issues until a later group, but I will briefly address the other two issues raised by amendments in this group.

On regulations, concerns were expressed on all sides in Committee about the use of Henry VIII powers and the skeleton nature of much of the Bill, especially Part 4, but I am grateful that the Minister has engaged with us throughout this process on these and other issues. I think that it will make for a better Bill in the end.

I am grateful to have had sight of the draft regulations under Part 1, even if I would have preferred to see all the remaining draft regulations before Report. I am very glad to see the government amendments clarifying the scope of some of the regulations and those which make regulations affirmative or confirmatory. If nothing else, it saves me from tabling endless Motions just to ensure adequate scrutiny. However, I will be interested to hear the Minister’s answers to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, about the retained use of the negative procedure and other matters related to delegated powers.

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Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey [V]
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My Lords, I will restrict my remarks to Amendment 32, which is in my name and the names of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, and my noble friend Lady Bowles. I thank them for their support. In Committee, we spent a long time discussing intergenerational fairness in CDC schemes. We did this partly because we knew from the Government’s excellent briefing note that concern about intergenerational fairness was raised by many respondents to the consultation and because it seemed clear that the risk to intergenerational fairness was an almost inevitable feature of such schemes.

We pressed the Government to legislate the requirement for intergenerational fairness into the schemes. We knew that the Government themselves were deeply concerned about the issue and seemed to be choosing mechanisms for intergenerational fairness over benefit stability; but as I remarked at the time, it was hard to tell how they might work, since the mechanisms for bringing this about were not yet explicit and no real assessment of effect was possible.

In her response, the Minister made it clear that she shared our commitment to ensuring intergenerational fairness and that the mechanisms for achieving it would be introduced, after extensive consultation, by regulations under Clause 18. This will be long after the Bill has become an Act, and leaves open the question of how we will assess the success or otherwise of these mechanisms. It also leaves open the question of how the assessment of any such mechanisms will be communicated to members and potential members of the scheme.

Our Amendment 32 proposes a way of addressing these issues. It provides that, whenever TPR issues a notice requiring a scheme to submit a supervisory return, the notice must include a requirement that the trustees

“make an assessment of the extent to which the scheme is operating in a manner fair to all members.”

The amendment speaks of fairness. Intergenerational fairness is a critical subset of fairness, but there are other kinds of fairness, too. For example, there is gender fairness, and single versus married status and the fairness implicit in that, or not. The amendment makes no attempt to define fairness; it relies on the trustees to do that, as they should in the normal operation of the scheme. Their definitions and assessments will help members of all classes, and potential members, understand the working of their scheme and the success of the trustees in operating it fairly in the interests of all members.

As I mentioned in Committee, AJ Bell noted that the DWP leaves little doubt that it will not allow schemes to be skewed in favour of one cohort of members over another. I am sure that is the intention, but AJ Bell also noted that fairness could make outcomes in CDCs less predictable and raises the spectre of pension cuts. It goes on to say:

“The DWP itself notes any reductions in benefits will not be well received, and so clear communication of this – not just upfront but on an ongoing basis – will be absolutely essential.”


Our amendment will bring some communication and transparency to the balancing required to produce, and to the consequences of producing, fairness across all member cohorts.

In Committee, the Minister explained how the proposed headroom mechanism for the Royal Mail scheme would be fairer than a capital buffer. All classes of members and potential members of the scheme need to know how well this headroom mechanism or other mechanisms generated by Clause 18 are working. Our amendment will require the trustees to explain these things and to assess their success in managing the scheme fairly for all members.

Given the acknowledged risks to fairness inherent in the scheme, and that Parliament’s opportunity to influence the mechanisms that might arise in regulation will be as small as usual, it is vital that scheme trustees are open and transparent about their success in producing fair outcomes for all members. That is what our amendment would help bring about, and I intend to test the opinion of the House.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock [V]
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My Lords, I say at the outset that Labour supports Part 1 of the Bill and the move to create CMP schemes, provided, of course, that they are not used as a means of downgrading good DB schemes. The two amendments in this group deal with different concerns that have been expressed about CMP schemes. Amendment 32 acknowledges that there may be a divergence of interests between different sets of members in a scheme of this kind. It does not prescribe any particular action but it does require trustees to surface the issue and to assess the extent to which the scheme is fair to all members.

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Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 72 and 74 in this group. Neither amendment in any way alters any of the important climate change amendments in the group, except in one respect: they require the Government to make something happen.

What the amendments would do is very straightforward: they would simply impose a binding legal obligation on the trustees or managers of an occupational pension scheme of a prescribed description with a view to securing effective governance of the scheme with respect to the effects of climate change. They would also impose an obligation to include, in particular, the risks arising from steps taken because of climate change, whether by the Government or otherwise, and opportunities relating to climate change.

All those things are word for word in the Bill except that they are all governed by the word “may”. Our amendments would replace the two references to “may” with “must”. As the Bill stands, the Government are not actually obliged to do any of those things, or indeed anything at all, in this clause. The word “may” in subsections (1) and (2) is permissive, not directive—a point made by my noble friend Lady Bowles and me in Committee.

The Minister kindly wrote to us all in response on 5 March. She confirmed that the Government intend to take action and were wholly committed to legislating for effective governance of occupational pension schemes with respect to climate change. She concluded by saying:

“Changing the legislation to ‘must’ would therefore make no practical difference, because as a Government we are committed to making regulations under new sections 41A, 41B and 41C introduced by the Government’s amendment.”


This argument works both ways, of course. What can be the basis of the Government’s objection to “must” if they are committed to doing it anyway? What possible reservations, hesitations or changes of mind are being contemplated here? What can be wrong with having legal certainty that what has been promised will actually happen?

There is a parallel in this Bill to our discussions on the MaPS pensions dashboard. The Committee asked why the provision for MaPS to provide a public dashboard was only a “may”, not a “must”. In reply, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, confirmed that the Government were absolutely committed to MaPS providing a qualifying dashboard service. Several Members, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Sherlock, noted that the Government being committed to MaPS producing a dashboard is not the same thing as saying that they will ensure that there is a MaPS dashboard. The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, made the point that a little amendment—“may” to “must”—would capture the Government’s assurances

“so that the next Secretary of State does not change their mind.”—[Official Report, 26/2/20; col. GC 186.]

This argument clearly convinced the Government. They have now introduced their own amendments to make a MaPS dashboard a “must” rather than a “may”. I know that we are all very pleased about that.

Can the Government accept the same logic here? If it was right to change “may” to “must” for a pensions dashboard, why is it not right to do the same thing for climate change? I look forward to the Minister’s eager acceptance of the precedent and these amendments.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who raised climate issues in relation to pension schemes during our proceedings, especially those involved in the cross-party talks led by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I also thank the Minister for listening and moving on from the broad government amendments brought forward in Committee.

This Bill has been on a journey. When it was first published there was no reference to climate change at all. Indeed, from having been given advice from the Library, I understand that climate change has never been included in domestic pensions legislation before in this country, so we are making history here today.

The Labour Benches had two priorities on this: first, to provide clarity on climate risk by ensuring that the Paris Agreement is referenced; and secondly, to ensure that trustees and managers take international climate treaties into account when making decisions. The word “account” is clearly significant. It recalls the Court of Appeal judgment that found that the Government had failed to take into account the Paris Agreement when permitting the Heathrow expansion. That was a good example of the need to make sure that positive action on the international level to combat climate change is not forgotten when Ministers make domestic policy decisions.

Our priorities are reflected in Amendments 73 and 79, but because we have secured cross-party consensus with the Government, they are also reflected in the government amendments in this group, especially Amendments 75 and 76. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s reply to the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about whether these refer also to the physical impacts of climate change and the impact of steps taken to transition towards a low-carbon economy, and for clarification that Amendment 76 includes the UK’s net-zero target.

However, as my noble friend Lady Jones said, we are only at the beginning of a journey to net zero. Divesting pension funds away from fossil fuels is a big challenge. The Government and the industry need to go further and quicker, with aligning investment strategies with domestic and international targets being the ultimate goal. For this Bill, we have reached a good place with broad cross-party support. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register: I am a non-executive director of London Stock Exchange plc, which has a pension scheme of which I am not a member.

I have signed both amendments, which are about getting priorities right on the matter of how a company uses spare cash and the importance of paying down deficits, especially if it is over too long a time. If there is spare cash around, deficit reduction should rank ahead of share buybacks and be balanced with regards to dividends. Both those issues have already been well elaborated, especially by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux.

The amendments would not prohibit either of those eventualities; they would make them notifiable events. The regulator could then exercise discretion about whether there were good reasons; for example, checking that, in the circumstances, the quantum of the dividend was acceptable. I am less certain about good reasons for buybacks, but if there were any, they could be discussed. I therefore support the amendment. To deem it excessively cautious would not be to take it as it is intended. Although we say that the matter would need to be investigated, we would expect the Pensions Regulator to be reasonable in all the circumstances. For example, if everybody had fallen into big deficits, obviously the situation would be different, because of what was going on in the markets, from where a company was being a laggard in making up its deficits. However, we must not forget that if those deficits are not repaid and the company is under stress, it will be the workers and the pensioners who lose out in the end. They cannot always be put at the end of the queue.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, for returning to this issue. We all know that there are some DB schemes with significant deficits and employers who could be doing more to clear them more quickly. Let us not forget the work done by LCP, which showed many firms paying out dividends 10 to 20 times their pension deficit payments, or the regulator’s annual DB funding statement last year, which raised concern about the disparity between dividend growth and stable deficit repair contributions.

The problem will not disappear. As more DB schemes have closed, they will soon be paying out more in pensioner payments, leaving them less to invest and with a need to de-risk their remaining investments.

The Covid pandemic is going to make things worse. The Pensions Regulator reports that, so far, only around 10% of schemes have agreed a temporary suspension or a reduction in DRCs post Covid, but more trustees and employers are in the process of discussing possible requests to suspend or reduce contributions. We all know that the full force of the economic storm has yet to hit us.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, mentioned the no-dividend rules for Covid business loans. The regulator’s Covid-19 guidance on defined benefit scheme funding and investment says that, if trustees face requests to suspend or reduce contributions, then they should seek mitigations. It gives an example, saying:

“All dividends and other forms of shareholder distribution to stop throughout the period of suspension and not to start again until the deferred or suspended contributions have been paid.”


TPR will still require trustees to report agreements to suspend or reduce contributions and provide information on the mitigations.

Ministers say that the regulator can chase employers if resources are taken out that should not be taken, but we know what the danger is if action is taken only after a dividend has been paid out. If the dividends are paid out by a UK employer to an overseas parent, it can be very difficult to get them back. It is entirely possible, in these difficult times, that if a company is in trouble and its parent company is based overseas, there may well be a move to repatriate assets to the home state. These amendments seek to tackle that problem not by stopping dividends or even buybacks where there is a deficit but by making them a notifiable event in certain circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, has softened his amendments, but he has still made a compelling case. Therefore, if the Minister does not want to accept these amendments, can he tell the House how he will ensure that the next BHS or Carillion scandal will not be a company with a foreign parent seeking to repatriate assets before abandoning its obligations to the pension scheme? I look forward to his reply.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, for tabling these amendments to Clause 109, which brings us back to an issue that we debated at some length in Grand Committee. It would be helpful to consider these amendments together, as they seek to make the declaration of a dividend or share buyback the subject of a notice and accompanying statement to the Pensions Regulator and trustees of the pension scheme. In the case of a share buyback, this notification would be required where the value of the assets of the scheme was less than the amount of the liabilities. In the case of a dividend, notification would be required if the amount of the dividend exceeded the annual deficit repair contribution and the amount of the annual deficit repair contribution was less than a percentage of the scheme’s deficit. That percentage would be specified by the Pensions Regulator.

I understand where the noble Lord is coming from, but I will address his concern with an explanation of Clause 109. The purpose of the clause is to make sure that the Pensions Regulator and trustees of a defined benefit pension scheme have prior knowledge about corporate transactions or events of which they would otherwise have been unaware and that pose a risk to the scheme and ultimately the Pension Protection Fund. The clause would also ensure that the trustees work with employers to mitigate the effect of such risks.

The Pensions Regulator and the trustees of the pension scheme are able to access information about dividends and share buybacks already. There are well-established processes whereby the regulator is able to get the information that it needs on dividends and similar payments as it assesses covenant strength and the ability of the employer to make contributions to deal with any deficit. Adding additional notifications of the kind that the noble Lord is suggesting is unlikely to be of any help. What it would certainly do is put an unnecessary burden on both employers and the regulator.

The regulator simply would not have the resources to deal with these additional notifications. That is not a trivial point: let us remember that it is a risk-based regulator and must focus its resources where it can do most good. We think that this focus is best directed at ensuring that recovery plans are robust. That is the best way to ensure that schemes are treated fairly. It is the strength of the recovery plan that is key here. Of course there will be occasions when dividends are paid without the regulator’s knowledge, but even if the regulator had been able to prevent that from happening, that would not help the scheme. That is because there is no requirement for the sponsoring employer to pay anything into any scheme deficit other than what is set out in the recovery plan.

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Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 52. I also support the other two amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, as a result of the matter being much debated in Committee, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, for her clear analysis of the issues involved.

Many would say that pensions dashboards are long overdue. They enable people to plan their future finances taking account of existing pensions, and to take a long-term view of future financial provision. However, the challenge of producing a dashboard that will adequately cover the complexity of the pensions landscape should not be underestimated. We are talking about millions of people, and the enormous number of lost pensions that we hear about shows both the need for and scope of the task. Given the level of complexity, the scope for scams and fraudulent actions increases and it is therefore essential that members of the public are sufficiently protected.

As many noble Lords have said, the vulnerability of many people means that they can be much more susceptible to scams and bogus claims and apparently attractive offers from the commercial sector. The additional factor that digital literacy and access can be problematic for some people also needs to be considered. That and the lack of sound advice can lead to bad decisions and life-changing, irreversible mistakes, as we heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Altmann, in Committee.

Pensions is a complicated subject; it is not easily accessible by everyone. Lack of engagement, which has already been talked about, is a result and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, said, people often take the line of least resistance and take wrong decisions that they are unable to change. I hear the arguments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, about innovation. Certainly, it is an important factor, but I feel that the protection of pension holders is more important. Measures to provide full protection should be the subject of further primary legislation rather than secondary legislation, as indicated in the Bill.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock [V]
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My Lords, I will deal first with the data issues. There are known to be problems with data quality in many pension schemes that need to be addressed. The regulator has rightly been pushing trustees to improve the accuracy of their data and to evidence that they are doing so. But as we move to a world of pension dashboards, with a consumer’s savings all being displayed in one place and the expectation that behaviour will be influenced by it, data accuracy and standards are key, so I hope the Minister will take to heart the issues raised today.

On transactions, done well, a pensions dashboard can be a really useful service, helping savers to locate lost pots and see all their different pensions in one place—state and private—and work out if they are saving enough for retirement. But there are big risks, especially because the Bill leaves almost every aspect of the dashboard service wide open. In Committee, we tried to put some boundaries around this. We tabled an amendment to insist that there must be a public dashboard from the outset, and I am delighted to see the government amendment now requiring that. Another of our amendments required the FCA to regulate the provision of dashboard services; again, Ministers confirmed that that would happen. Another of our amendments proposed that using the dashboard to see your own data must be free, and Ministers confirmed that it would be. We have come a long way and I am really grateful to the Government for engaging with our concerns.

But two important issues are still outstanding, and they are addressed in this and the next group. As my noble friend Lady Drake explained so well, Amendment 52 would stop delegated powers in the Bill being used to authorise commercial dashboards to engage in transactions. We simply believe that the risks of this are such that Ministers should have to come back to Parliament and seek further authorisation before going down that road. Remember, we still do not know how many dashboards there will be, who will run them or what information can be put on them. We do not know where liability will lie for each link in the chain or how consumers will be compensated if they lose out. We do know that there will be a public dashboard and that the Government want commercial dashboards running alongside it from the start.

But let us think for a moment. If a company cannot charge to look at a dashboard, why would they create one, unless they can profit from it in some other way? How might that be? Could a company show a consumer their data and say, “Look, you’ve got all these different pots. Wouldn’t it be tidier if your brought it all over into this fund here, which my firm happens to run?” Could they fund it by taking advertising? Could a consumer log on to a commercial dashboard and see an advert popping up, inviting her to connect with an adviser, or saying, “Have you ever thought about equity release?” There are even risks just in presenting data in a way that could privilege some kinds of assets over others, depending on who is running the scheme.

This is a risky market—a point that my noble friend made very well. Those who sell complicated pension products generally know and understand a lot more about them than those who buy them. Let us remember the history of financial services mis-selling—from personal pensions through to endowment mortgages, to the PPI scandal, as a result of which, firms are likely to end up repaying up to £50 billion to consumers. The average pension pot is worth rather more than the average PPI policy. The dashboard project could extend to some 22 million people. It is a powerful tool.

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock [V]
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My Lords, this has been another interesting debate. Before I address the question of the dashboard, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Young, who has been deploying his considerable stores of intellect and wit as he has politely but determinedly pursued Ministers on the matter of verifying and identity verification. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to him yet again.

I am delighted that Ministers have now agreed to ensure that there will be a public dashboard and that it will be available from launch. I welcome the government amendments in this group, but Amendment 63, in my name and that my noble friend Lady Drake and others, aims to push the Government an extra step further: to put in place an essential safeguard that the MaPS public dashboard must have been in operation for a year, and the Secretary of State have laid a report before Parliament on the operation and effectiveness of the service, before commercial dashboards are authorised by the FCA to enter the market.

I am sorry to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, regards this amendment as inappropriate, and that she somehow seems to think that people were using the Bill as an opportunity to bring in other things. The only reason that we have had to table amendments to place safeguards is because the Government have brought forward proposals without adequate safeguards in the first place. I have certainly never voted while on a garden bench and I have more confidence that my fellow Members of the House of Lords are listening to the arguments and able to make an intelligent judgment. I hope that they will feel able to support us on this amendment, as they did on the last.

I am, however, grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Sharkey, the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Janke, and the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. The case for this amendment has been made overwhelmingly by my noble friend Lady Drake and other speakers, so I will not rehearse it in detail, but I was struck by her summary of the many complexities and challenges still to be dealt with in the dashboard project. These are building the architecture, sorting out the liability model, deciding how to compensate consumers for a detriment, managing data standards and data-sharing risks, identity verification and security, and behavioural responses. Basically, there is a lot yet to be decided, designed, operationalised and tested. The Government’s plan is to do all this with a public dashboard and commercial dashboards running alongside each other from the launch. It is our contention that that simply unnecessarily increases the risk.

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Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey [V]
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My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend’s analysis of the one-size-fits-all regulatory threat to open schemes. I also strongly support the proposed remedy, which would ensure proper consideration of the essential differences between open and closed schemes, is proportionate and is not unduly prescriptive. I hope the Minister will respond positively.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock [V]
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My Lords, we all believe that trustees of DB schemes should have a clearly defined funding and investment strategy for insuring pensions in the long term. However, if that is pursued in a way driven by the need to protect members in closed maturing DB schemes, then schemes with strong covenants open to new entrants risk being swept up in an approach that is wrong for them. As closed DB schemes increasingly mature, the regulator will expect them to de-risk and reduce their deficits. However, if that approach is applied in a blanket form it will force some open schemes to de-risk prematurely, putting pressure on employers and, in the railway scheme with its shared-cost basis, on employees too. Given all the concerns expressed, will the Minister accept this amendment?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for her amendment, which touches on a number of important factors to be considered in the development of secondary legislation, including the factors that it lists. I say immediately that I agree that these are all important factors to take into account when developing secondary legislation for defined benefit scheme funding. However, we do not need an amendment to do that. The amendment includes factors that are all taken into consideration during the whole process of framing policy, legislation and guidance.

One of the greatest strengths of our scheme-funding regime is that it operates on a scheme-by-scheme basis because every scheme is different, and it would be unhelpful and inflexible to treat them all the same. The measures in the Bill build on that approach, as will the secondary legislation. The existing scheme-funding legislation has been drafted to ensure that it is flexible enough to apply to all types of defined benefit scheme—for example, whether open or closed. Equally, the scheme-funding measures in the Bill are flexible enough to apply to all types of defined benefit scheme.

In the protecting defined benefits White Paper we were clear that there are a number of examples for suitable long-term objectives and that running on with employer support would be a reasonable course of action for an open scheme. Whether or not the strategy for ensuring that benefits can be provided in the long term is suitable will depend on the specific context of a particular scheme. Additionally, we entirely accept that schemes with different liquidity profiles and maturity will be able to take different trajectories. This is, and will remain, fundamental to the scheme-specific approach. So I assure the noble Baroness and the House that any regulations will also be formulated with considerations such as those outlined in the amendment in mind, where appropriate.

The big danger with an amendment of this kind is that it creates inflexibility. It remains our aim that the scheme-funding measures in the Bill do not change existing flexibilities but, rather, seek to make best practice universal and ensure that all schemes are planning for the long term. It is good practice for all schemes, including open schemes, to set a funding and investment strategy.

My noble friend Lord Young asked whether I could commit to a meeting along with officials to discuss these issues. Yes, I am happy to do that, and if schemes have concerns with what TPR is proposing they can engage with the current consultation. The Pension Regulator’s current consultation on the defined benefits funding code includes a twin-track compliance process that takes account of scheme and employer circumstances. Indeed, the current consultation has a full chapter on open schemes, and I encourage anyone interested to contribute their views.

Regulation-making powers exist precisely to allow the system to be calibrated effectively to ensure that this balance is struck. While the noble Baroness’s amendment reflects a number of factors that are considered while developing policy, we do not need to specify those in primary legislation and indeed, as I hope I have indicated, it would be unhelpful to do so. We need to leave room for the flexibility that I have emphasised; we must leave enough flexibility in the system to allow it to react effectively to future changes. Indeed, in the light of the current social and economic climate, it is very clear that the economic shape of the future is unknowable.

I hope that the noble Baroness will recognise from what I have said that the Government’s approach is fair and proportionate and that she will accept my assurance that appropriate flexibilities are, and will continue to be put, in place. On that basis I respectfully urge her, and urge her with some emphasis, to withdraw the amendment.

Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Pension Schemes Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 104-I Marshalled list for Report - (25 Jun 2020)
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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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.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab) [V]
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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.

Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey (LD) [V]
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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.

Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 19th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Pension Schemes Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 152-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons amendments - (15 Jan 2021)
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for explaining why the Government asked the Commons to reject the amendments passed in this House. We have come a long way since the Bill had its First Reading in this House on 7 January—more than a year ago, although it seems more like a lifetime. The Bill now makes some important changes, creates CDC schemes, legislates for the pensions dashboard and strengthens the regulatory environment on pensions.

During the Bill’s passage through this House, the Government have made some welcome concessions. For example, we ran an amendment to require a public dashboard from the outset. The Government brought forward amendments requiring that, and I am grateful for the confirmation that the Minister has given today. We ran amendments saying that the FCA should regulate the provision of dashboard services, and the Minister has confirmed that that will happen. We ran an amendment to say that using the dashboard to see your own data must be free, and the Minister has confirmed that it will remain free.

The Bill initially made no reference to climate change, but my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and Members from across the House worked together to persuade the Government to amend the Bill to require trustees and managers to take the Paris Agreement and domestic climate change targets into account in their overall governance and their disclosure of climate change risks and opportunities. This is the first time that the words “climate change” have featured in domestic pensions legislation.

This is a better Bill than it was when it started, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have worked so hard on it, especially my noble friend Lady Drake and Dan Harris in our Opposition Whips team. I am also grateful to the Minister for engaging with our concerns and to the Bill team and all the officials who have engaged with us.

That said, the Government have rejected the amendments which this House voted for. On CDC schemes, I hope they will review the intergenerational impact of any schemes as they are developed and will keep an eye on that. I am particularly disappointed that our amendments on the pensions dashboard system were rejected. They would have put in place two essential safeguards: that the MaPS public dashboard should be in operation for a year and that the Secretary of State should lay a report before Parliament on its operation and effectiveness before commercial dashboards enter the market, and that the delegated powers in the Bill could not be used to authorise commercial dashboards to engage in transactions.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, I remain deeply concerned about the risks to consumers. Those amendments were especially important given the sheer breadth of the delegated powers the Bill grants and how little we know at the moment about how the dashboards will work. We still do not know how many dashboards there will be, who will run them, what information they will have, how it will be displayed or how consumers will respond. We do not know where liability will lie for each link in the chain or how consumers will be compensated if they lose out. We do not know what the charging model will be or how data security, identity verification or third-party access will be managed.

Given all those things that we do not know, I have sought to persuade the Government to come to Parliament to allow us to debate the proposals they make before the regulations are published. I regret that I have not succeeded in that. Given that this remains a very high-risk programme and that parliamentary scrutiny would surely be an advantage not an impediment, I hope that in her reply the Minister can give us some assurance of our continued involvement in debate on this process. I look forward to hearing her reply.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Janke and Lady Sherlock, for their contributions. I think it is right to say that we have listened, we have engaged and we have valued and appreciated all noble Lords’ contributions, and I assure noble Lords that that will continue.

I reassure the House that the Government are fully committed to continue transparency and engagement through the development, delivery and operation of pensions dashboards. We greatly value the insight and input from colleagues from across the House in shaping, testing and ensuring the proposals and want that to continue throughout the more detailed stages of development. The pension dashboards programme is committed to publishing six-monthly progress updates, the most recent of which, in October 2020, outlined the work undertaken to define the data standards and the work towards finalising the requirements for the digital architecture and the identity service. It also set out an indicative plan for delivery.

Future updates, in advance of the launch of dashboards, will provide greater detail, engagement opportunity and assurance on key areas of specific interest. These will include the digital architecture and identity service; user consents and permissions, including delegated or third-party access; the consumer protection regime, including the liability model; and further work on how data will be presented to consumers, based on a growing body of user research and a greater understanding of user needs.

I facilitated a meeting between noble Lords and the pensions dashboards programme team just before Christmas. As promised at that meeting, I will ensure that these regular meetings continue. They will provide your Lordships with the opportunity to have meaningful discussions directly with the programme team at the publication of each progress update report and a chance to scrutinise this work at an early stage of development. I will ensure that copies of these reports are placed in the House Library on their publication.

I recognise the concerns that many have expressed about the broad nature of the delegated powers within this area of the Bill. There is a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to consult before making regulations for pensions dashboards. Consultation will cover proposals across the range of areas which are critical to the safe, secure and effective delivery of dashboards, and give all those interested the opportunity to influence the detail before the regulations are laid in draft in this House under the affirmative procedure.

I know that some of your Lordships have asked whether we can go even further, requiring the Government to lay a report before Parliament for debate in advance of draft regulations being laid. I do not believe this to be the right way forward, as the consultation on the Government’s proposals for regulations will already have taken place.

I have listened further to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and, although we have not always been in agreement, we are together on Peers having ongoing future involvement, and we are prepared to engage, engage and engage. Therefore, in addition to updating the House in the usual manner, I am prepared to commit to the Government tabling Written Ministerial Statements during the consultation phases, prior to the debate on the proposed dashboard regulations.

I reassure the noble Baroness that I will continue to work with her collaboratively in the way we have done throughout the Bill’s progress. On the matter of facilitating further debate on the issue, I am sure that the Chief Whip has heard our debate today, and, when the Written Ministerial Statements are laid, I will draw them to his attention for him to consider further discussion in the usual channels.

Some concerns have been expressed about governance of the dashboard service going forward. The Money and Pensions Service has responsibility for delivery of the dashboard architecture and ongoing oversight and control, and it is clear that our focus for the foreseeable future must be on the development and implementation of the service. Meeting the demands of the scale and complexity of this challenge comes first. Reaching a live and steady state of operation will take a number of years, as set out in the pensions dashboards programme activity plan. As such, I confirm that the Government have no plan to move ownership of dashboards architecture away from the Money and Pensions Service.

My department has clear governance arrangements in place to ensure the delivery of dashboards. As well as the regular published updates that I mentioned earlier, there is an existing legislative requirement, in the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018, for MaPS to report to the Secretary of State annually on the exercise of its functions, which includes its responsibilities for pensions dashboards. This report is laid before Parliament.

Chris Curry, the senior responsible officer for the pensions dashboard programme, and Sir Hector Sants, chair of the Money and Pensions Service, regularly report progress to Ministers. The department also undertakes formal quarterly accountability reviews with the Money and Pensions Service. We recognise the importance of effective evaluation, including monitoring of consumer behaviours and outcomes. My department is responsible for overall evaluation of the policy and is working with the pensions dashboards programme and regulators to develop a comprehensive evaluation plan.

Research will also be undertaken with providers and users alike throughout the project life cycle. This will include user testing to understand likely reactions and behaviours, and research to understand the impact that dashboards will have on the market. My department is developing a joint set of critical success factors to complement delivery and measure the success of policy objectives. These are relevant to all stages of the programme and will give insights on, among other things, usage of the service, delivery and compliance. Review of the critical success factors will also play a part in evaluation and service developments.

I finish by repeating the commitment that I made in my opening remarks. We will not allow any dashboard to which schemes are required to supply data to be launched before that of the Money and Pensions Service. On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, about a review of intergenerational impact and fairness, we will of course review how CD schemes operate and will monitor how different groups are treated.

I hope that my comments reassure noble Lords that the Government are acting diligently and responsibly in the delivery of dashboards.

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I reserve my right to call a vote on my amendment, but I am optimistic that it will not come to that. I beg to move.
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for her contribution. I hope that the debates in both Houses have caused the Government to reflect further on whether their DB funding requirements are fit for purpose. I acknowledge the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and other Members in this regard.

I wish that the Government had supported the Labour amendment to the Bill in the other place. The essence of it is captured in my Amendment 4D here. It is regrettable that so many DB pension schemes outside the public sector are closed to new members and to future accrual of benefits for existing members. It is also important to recognise that there are DB schemes which remain meaningfully open to new members, which are sustainable, and which have strong employer covenants.

I support the Pensions Regulator in wanting to ensure that DB schemes are well run and properly funded, thereby increasing the likelihood that members will receive their accrued benefits in full when they become due. We have seen enough examples of poor corporate behaviour and the decline or collapse of companies providing the covenant to DB schemes to know the consequences of having a weak funding regime.

Today’s debate does not challenge this principle. It is concerned with how the principle is applied and specifically whether the approach to scheme funding by the Government and the regulator sufficiently recognises the difference between the funding regime for a sustainable, meaningfully open DB scheme and that for an increasingly mature and closed DB scheme. There is real concern that, unless the difference is recognised, the Pensions Regulator and any regulations from the Secretary of State could perversely pose a threat to the continuation of open, relatively immature, sustainable schemes. This would thereby deny the opportunity for millions of workers to benefit from a DB pension. Many sections of the Railway Pensions Scheme are an example of such an open DB scheme.

A closed DB scheme will, of course, see contributions decline and the remaining scheme members progressively age. As more and more of the assets will be needed to pay the pensions, they will need to be lower risk and provide liquidity to ensure that members receive their benefits when they become due. A sustainable, meaningfully open scheme has an ongoing flow of new contributions, including from future members. These can be invested for the long term, providing higher returns. Their investment profile does not need to be as risk-averse as that required for a declining DB scheme. If sustainable, open DB schemes are unnecessarily pushed into the same investment and derisking strategies required for declining closed schemes, there is the risk that the regulator will push up the ongoing contributions of members and employers to such a level that, perversely, they encourage open, sustainable DB schemes to close. This cannot be right. It does not benefit employees, employers or the economy.

My amendment aims to ensure that regulations on DB scheme funding recognise the characteristics of sustainable open schemes, rather than setting a one size fits all policy for both closed and open DB schemes. It specifies that

“the objectives of the Secretary of State must include supporting the ability of the trustees of a relevant scheme to decide the funding and investment strategy for the scheme taking into account the current and future maturity and liquidity of the relevant scheme consistent with the trustees’ duty to invest assets in the best interests of members and beneficiaries.”

I know that the Pensions Regulator has issued an interim response to its first DB funding code consultation. It is apparent from some of the comments, including those of the PLSA, that there are misunderstandings or lack of clarity about the position of open schemes. Assurances are being sought from some in the pensions industry and elsewhere that the DB funding regime will remain scheme-specific. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, referred to this. Any bespoke approach under the new funding proposals should build on that foundation. The DB funding regime should continue to apply flexibly to take account of individual scheme circumstances.

I will listen carefully to the Minister’s answers to my questions and to those detailed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. Given the concerns expressed in both Houses, it will be important to hear some answers to these questions and I do hope to hear the Minister tell us whether the Government plan to consult with open and immature schemes before publishing the draft regulations, including reflecting on the impact on members and sponsors of schemes that are meaningfully open. I hope the Minister can respond today in a way that addresses the concerns raised and indicates a way forward. I too have valued the conversations of which I have been a part. I have no wish to press my amendment to a Division, although I will listen carefully to what she has to say before making a final decision. I look forward to her reply.

--- Later in debate ---
Tabled by
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
- Hansard - -

At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 4D in lieu of the words so left out of the Bill—

4D: Schedule 10, page 185, line 29, at end insert—
“221C Guiding objectives
(1) In exercising any powers to make regulations or otherwise to prescribe any matter of principle under this Part, the objectives of the Secretary of State must include supporting the ability of the trustees of a relevant scheme to decide the funding and investment strategy for the scheme taking into account the current and future maturity and liquidity of the relevant scheme consistent with the trustees’ duty to invest assets in the best interests of members and beneficiaries.
(2) In subsection (1), “relevant scheme” means an occupational pension scheme that is not near significant maturity and is open to new members and is reasonably expected to remain so, either indefinitely or for a significant period of time.””