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Mr. Brazier: I served in Committee on the Bill, and we are nearing the end of a process that has gone on for two and a half months. Following the emotionally charged and important debate on incapacity benefit, we can see once again how wrong it was to cram so many different subjects into one Bill, as hon. Members of various parties said on Second Reading. The new clause and the amendments grouped with it are very important, dealing with pension arrangements for people who can only just afford to provide for themselves, but we have a small turnout because this discussion follows a mass of other important subjects.

We are suffering once again from the fact that, because the Government are trying to cram a gallon into a pint pot, there is far too much reliance on regulation. We are trying to pin down what should be done, but much is unclear because of the excessive use of regulation. The regulations and the ideas behind them stem from several different consultations, including the consultation on this part of the Bill, which was not even completed when we began our proceedings in Committee.

In other parts of the Bill, Labour party manifesto commitments--on means-testing and on the contributory principle, for example--were abandoned. The Government's refusal to accept the new clause and associated amendments represents the abandonment of another good principle: that we should seek to simplify the social security and pensions system. Absurdly, with the stakeholder plan, the Government are trying to start again with a completely new edifice which is separate from the Treasury's edifice. That is not completely new, but builds on existing plans, and for that reason, it is mostly welcomed by the Opposition.

The hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) missed the point of the interventions by my hon. Friends. The point about the working families tax credit, on which we

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stood shoulder to shoulder with the Liberal Democrats, is that it is potentially adjustable twice a year on the basis of a complicated calculation. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) pointed out, the arrangements suggested in new clause 13 would be in place for good once a simple standing order had been set up. In the case of the House of Commons scheme, it would be pegged to 10 per cent. of salary. The arrangements would not involve the complexities to which we objected in another context.

By trying to set up such a complicated system, which contained the germ of a good idea when the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) first proposed it, the Government are setting themselves against the pensions industry and against those who would like to provide better for those at the bottom end of the earnings scale, who will be specifically targeted by the measure. I suspect that the rival Treasury product will be much more successful.

My final point is really a Third Reading point, but I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it looks unlikely that we will get to Third Reading. It is very sad that we should be debating all these amendments at the end of proceedings on this Bill. We are dancing round on the head of a pin while the entire debate on pensions policy is crushed between two halves of a nutcracker--one being the devastating blow that was wreaked upon ordinary company, personal and other pensions by the shameful removal of tax credits, and the other being the knowledge that among the low paid, people who do not provide for themselves may end up doing better. That point was eloquently made by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies). I strongly support new clause 13 which would go a long way towards improving a rotten, muddled and confused scheme.

Miss McIntosh: I strongly associate myself with new clause 13, which was eloquently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies). I wish to address two situations. The first is where an employer already operates an occupational pension scheme. Some employers may be tempted to close their occupational pension scheme to new entrants and simply offer access to stakeholder schemes. Small and large employers alike believe that that would be a regrettable move and I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will address that point.

The second situation is where an employer does not already operate an occupational pension scheme. Most employers without such a scheme would admit that they lack the financial skills necessary to choose such a scheme. If they choose the wrong scheme, many fear adverse consequences for themselves and their employees. I hope that the Minister supports the suggestion that employers should be required to provide access only via a pensions clearing house.

Mrs. May: For the record, I should declare that I have placed in the Register of Members' Interests a non- registerable shareholding in the Prudential corporation.

Before I make a couple of points about the amendments and the stakeholder scheme, I want to pick up on the comments of the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb). I am sorry that I was inadvertently out of the Chamber when

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he began to speak, but I came in as he was taking interventions on the extent to which proposals for employee payroll deduction facilities in new clause 13 would be a burden on business and difficult to operate.

As a former employee of the Association for Payment Clearing Services, I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman thinks that providing that sort of facility is beyond the scope of the banking sector, he should take a trip to the former de Havilland aircraft site at Edgware to visit BACS--formerly the Bankers Automated Clearing Services company--and see the number of deductions and payments that pass through the system every day. The banking sector is well able to cope with the proposal contained in new clause 13.

Mr. Webb: I have absolutely no doubt that the banking sector can cope. My question was what would be the cost to employers of accessing the services.

Mr. Brazier: Will my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. It is not possible for the hon. Gentleman to intervene on an intervention.

Mrs. May: I assume that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) wanted to intervene before I answered the intervention. I am happy to give way to him.

Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being as courteous as ever. The point that I tried to make earlier to the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) perhaps needs to be reiterated. The cost and complexity arises not from making a payment, but from having to do the calculation every six months for people whose earnings vary from week to week.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying the point that he made earlier. My point is that the banking sector can cope. Businesses produce tapes or telecoms data for banks to put to BACS. Significant numbers of such payments are being made, and if the hon. Member for Northavon is suggesting that new clause 13 should be cast aside on such a technical point, he should visit BACS to see how companies input such information and deal with such payments.

I have two points to make about stakeholders which relate to amendment No. 80. I share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), and by pension providers and bodies that represent employers. The Government's stakeholder pension schemes may result in the closure of some occupational pension schemes to new members. Employers will tell employees that they are not carrying on with occupational pension scheme provision, providing instead for the stakeholder pension because that is what the Government say is good.

The way in which we have built up our occupational pension scheme funds is one of the jewels in this country's crown. It places us in a far better position than many other countries to deal with future pension provision. We should not attack that position. I accept that the Government do not

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intend to attack occupational pension schemes, but I fear that the law of unintended consequences could very well bring about that result.

Finally, I want to reiterate a point that I made in the Chamber last week on pensions. I am particularly concerned about the impact of the Government's proposals on women. Women are just getting a foot on the ladder of occupational pension schemes, and some schemes may be taken from them. Secondly, many women are concerned already that they do not receive adequate advice about pension proposals. If no advice is provided on stakeholder pension schemes, many women will be disadvantaged in future. I support amendment No. 80 because independent pensions advice is important for all employees, but particularly for women.

7 pm

Mrs. Browning: I contribute to this section of the debate with some sadness. Although I was not a member of the Standing Committee, I followed the Hansard record of those deliberations. On the one hand, I must welcome the fact that the new Labour Government have undergone a conversion in respect of personal pensions and pension input per se. Many of us remember how, in the 1980s, every time the Conservatives introduced a Budget to give tax breaks to individuals to encourage them to input into pensions, whether personal or corporate, the Labour party consistently voted against those provisions, which have made Britain one of the strongest countries in Europe for pension funds and provision for old age. Notwithstanding that, the Labour party said time after time before the Labour Government were elected that if it came to office it would make fundamental changes to increase the scope of pension provision for a wider range of individuals and to tighten up aspects where it felt there needed to be more security for the person investing in a pension.

The Committee deliberated and we waited a long while to get proper confirmation from the Government about what they were proposing. Even though we now have a Bill in front of us, the Government still seem unable to answer many questions. I will raise some different issues from those raised by my hon. Friends, and perhaps we will hear one or two answers from the Government.

Given some of the problems, such as pensions mis-selling and the Maxwell scandal, many people may well be concerned about being a part of a group pension of whatever denomination. The Government therefore said that they want to enhance the role of trustees. That is important. However, as the Bill has proceeded, the Government have not been clear about their intentions for trustees.

The Minister of State was adamant in Committee, saying:

Despite persistent questioning by my Conservative colleagues, the Government failed to explain who will be the trustees and how they will be chosen. That question seems fundamental. If the Government's new stakeholder pensions are to be widely welcomed and, more important, taken up--particularly if they are to receive the support of employers in the workplace--it is extremely important for that sort of detail to be available.

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It is not the sort of detail that should be left to secondary legislation. If we have learned one thing in the past two years it is that many major Bills have been ill thought out--almost cobbled together on the hoof as they progress through Committee. Later, when we are faced with statutory instruments and secondary legislation that put the detail into the Bill, we find that the Government are doing something quite different from what they said in Committee.

I tell the Government and the Minister, who was adamant about trustees in stakeholder pensions, that if they want those pensions to be successful, they should tonight give the House the details of how those trustees will be appointed and take their place on the board.

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