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BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),


Question agreed to.

As amended in the Standing Committee, again considered.

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mrs. Lait: Our concern focuses on where the Government have chosen to draw the line. The issue was brought to our attention by the Association of British Insurers: it made its concerns clear to the Government, but they have not yet responded.

We suggest that top-ups are preferable to deeper rebates for defined benefit schemes, given the problems of getting the benefits of those rebates to filter through to lower-paid scheme members. It is less clear why the rebate approach is not applied to occupational schemes that are money purchase or defined contribution schemes. We suggest that the line should be drawn, not between occupational and personal pensions, but between defined benefit and money purchase schemes. Personal pensions might appear superficially more attractive than occupational money purchase schemes because of the deeper rebates. In theory, the S2P top-up should take care of that, but it will be 40 years before anyone sees any more jam.

It is also possible that the current proposals will add to providers' costs. Many insurers have moved out of COSRS, which are contracted out, salary-related schemes, and focused instead on COMPS, which are contracted out money purchase schemes that can run off the same systems as personal pensions and are therefore far simpler to use. We suggest that the Government take another look at the whole issue of COMPS and COSRS to see whether the impact of the stakeholder and state second pension will lessen the attraction of saving for pensions.

We are most concerned about the issue of concurrency. I hope that the Minister of State will display a positive attitude toward changing his mind about concurrency. If he does not, we shall press the new clause to a Division.

Mr. Flight: I rise to add to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). If the Government want stakeholders to be successful, it is in their interests to permit concurrency. The pattern of employment as it is now developing appears to require concurrency for both money purchase and final salary schemes. There will be an accelerating trend of people moving in and out between permanent employment, subcontracting and self-employment. For such people, there is a high risk of being left with little bits of several deferred occupational defined benefit schemes, so it must be desirable for them to have an on-going stakeholder pension scheme to provide the bulk of their retirement income.

What has happened to LISAs--lifelong individual savings accounts? The danger is that many people, especially those who are not in regular employment, will be underprovided for; at best, they will find their way

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into the second state pension scheme. However, the concept of a pension tax wrapper--analogous to the old personal equity plan tax wrapper and fairly similar to the individual savings account tax wrapper, whereby everyone can save for their pension, choose the unit trust in which they want to invest, and so on--is a necessary ingredient of the stakeholder system if it is to attract the desired membership.

About 2.8 million of those targeted for the Government's stakeholder pensions are in occupational schemes. The House does not want occupational schemes to be undermined by stakeholder schemes, and it can be argued that concurrence lessens the incentive for businesses with occupational schemes to replace them with stakeholder schemes.

On new clause 19, I echo the point that there is little logic in having completely different regulations for occupational money purchase schemes and personal pension money purchase schemes. Both types of scheme are in essence a pot of money that attaches to the individual. Many complications are caused by the different regulations and many companies are gradually ending their final salary schemes and moving to money purchase schemes. They are tending to move towards group personal pension schemes because they are more flexible. Surely the time has come to put the regulations together. As I have said, we are talking basically about one product.

Mr. Leigh: I have one simple question for the Minister, which I hope I can ask in a couple of minutes. What will happen when stakeholder pensions are made compulsory? I know that the Government would deny that it is currently their intention to make such pensions compulsory, but it is a generally accepted opinion in the industry, and in other circles, that were the Government to win the next general election, one of their early steps would be to make them compulsory.

Incentives are built into the minimum income guarantee system not to save and not to provide for one's pension. The more an individual saves and provides for his pension, the more he falls out of means-tested benefits. There will be so many people tempted for these reasons not to take out a stakeholder pension that it will not make sense from the Government's point of view to make such a pension compulsory. Other systems that have brought in stakeholder-type pensions have made them compulsory.

If such pensions are made compulsory, what will happen? Will people be forced to take the product? Will they, because the Government are opposed to concurrency, be denied the opportunity to take up an occupational pension? Of course not. I can foresee many difficulties unless the Government make it clear that people will have the choice. What is wrong with choice? The Government are right to insist that people should be encouraged to make some provision for their old age, but they should not be denying people choice when it comes to making that provision.

Mr. Rooker: The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) made a very important point. Later this year, the Government will embark on their generic advertising of the concept of stakeholder pensions. Providers will be doing their bit for the individual product. We will have to ensure that our advertising does not

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undermine occupational pensions--we are conscious of that. Mistakes could be made by a slip of a word, for example. I can give the hon. Gentleman that commitment. He raised the matter as an aside but he has made an important point.

We are now getting to technical considerations, and as someone from my humble origins I make no apology for sticking to my speaking notes. We discussed these matters in Committee. In responding to some hon. Members' questions, I must make it clear that the Government have not announced their final conclusions about concurrency. We have stated that clearly. Discussions are still taking place. If it were an easy matter to resolve or if we were ideologically opposed to concurrency and were having none of it, we would have said so by now. However, that is not our position. I hope that hon. Members will accept that sincere response, which I cannot go beyond.

The two new clauses are an attempt to introduce concurrency--to permit individuals to contribute simultaneously to a personal pension and an occupational pension scheme. A stakeholder pension is a personal pension. Secondly, they provide for members of occupational schemes on low and moderate earnings to get all the extra help that the state second pension brings entirely by way of enhanced national insurance rebates.

I shall deal first with the concurrency issue. We have already announced that we will permit concurrent membership of money purchase arrangements. An individual will be able to contribute, within existing limits, to both an employer-sponsored money purchase scheme and a stakeholder pension arrangement, if he or she so wishes.

I am in favour of everyone getting funded to the maximum. People should get as much money as they can from the Treasury to put towards their pension. I make no apology for saying that. It must be the best advice that any Member of Parliament or Minister can give our fellow citizens. There is a system designed to benefit them by enabling them to put money aside--not for a rainy day, but for their pension. Some people take full advantage of the system. Why do not others do so? They should get the maximum benefit in tax relief. If they can make the arrangements, and if they have the wherewithal, people should get funded up to the hilt.

However, there is always the problem of people going over the limit, by accident or as an avoidance measure. The Revenue is concerned about that. As has been said by hon. Members more versed in finance than I am, the Revenue is aware of the difficulties and will take a hard look at changes that may have an unintended effect.

The key issue now centres on concurrent membership of a defined contribution arrangement and defined benefit scheme. We have made it clear that we need to address the issue of high earners. Is it right to allow those who are already contributing up to the maximum limits in their occupational scheme to obtain further valuable tax relief on contributions of up to £3,600 a year to a concurrently held stakeholder scheme?

We do not believe that allowing such a concession would represent a wise or fair use of taxpayers' money. That is what it amounts to: the tax relief is the taxpayers'--the Treasury's--contribution to a person's pension. I say that

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people should take advantage of all they can get up to the limit and within the rules, but I see no justification for spending taxpayers' money to go above that.

I am advised that the more substantive part of the new clause bears a resemblance to an option put forward by the pensions industry in the very early stages of the consultation exercise on the future contracting-out regime. I can do no better than to quote the response of the Association of British Insurers to the consultation paper:


It may be helpful to hon. Members if I work through the issues of practicality to which the ABI refers. The new clause as drafted provides for low and moderate earners in contracted-out schemes to have the extra help that would be provided by the state second pension delivered entirely in rebate form and paid directly into a stakeholder pension arrangement. The rebate for low earners would be based on £9,500 and an accrual rate of 40 per cent., and moderate earners would have their rebate based on actual earnings and an accrual rate of 10 per cent. As all the help comes via the rebate, no state scheme top-up would be payable.

Before I turn directly to the practical limitations, I shall say a word about the additional up-front costs arising from that approach. As hon. Members know, we are already putting in an additional £400 million in extra rebates from the outset of the reforms. This figure will rise to some £4.5 billion in 2010. The proposal in the new clause would add to that almost £500 million more in the first year, and well over £1 billion in the second. We must consider whether that is a proper use of taxpayers' money. When we consider the practical application of the proposal, the answer must be no.

Moving on to the operational implications of the proposal, the first point to make is that every employer running a contracted-out occupational scheme would have to ensure that a stakeholder pension arrangement would be available for each member of his work force on low or moderate earnings. At present there are approximately 11,000 contracted-out occupational schemes. All of them would have to submit a stakeholder pension scheme application form to the Inland Revenue if they were also to set up an employer-sponsored stakeholder scheme.


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