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6.45 pm

Mr. Hoban: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is difficult to legislate on such matters. The minimum retirement income is aimed to achieve, in time, the right amount of income to be purchased for the rest of people’s lives. In circumstances in which a person’s income might fluctuate, the minimum will fluctuate over the course of that person’s retirement. We are considering a floor for use in later life. The subject is complex, and I am the first to acknowledge that. The process is not entirely straightforward but we should explore it to ensure some flexibility in the way in which people can use their retirement funds.

It is worth considering the views of the Turner commission on annuitisation. Its report highlighted the strains that the move to defined contribution schemes would place on the annuity market. It asks whether there are any limits to the capacity of the annuity market to play a greatly expanded role in post-retirement longevity risk absorption, as the state exits from pay-as-you-go earnings-related pension provision, and as private pension provision shifts from defined benefit to defined contribution. It therefore asked whether there would be a sufficient supply of annuities for people to acquire to enable them to achieve certainty about their income throughout their retirement.

Two points emerge from that analysis. First, the shorter the period of the annuity, the lower the inherent risk, the lower the risk premium priced in the product and, therefore, the higher the income that people can secure for their retirement. That is an argument for later annuitisation. The commission contends that policies need to be in place to encourage later annuitisation. One policy option is the proposal
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that the requirement for annuitisation at any age should be limited. That is similar to the proposal in the new clause. The report states:

The Turner commission highlighted two matters that are vital to our debate. First, it supports the idea of minimum annuitisation, reflecting the provision for the minimum income requirement in the new clause. Secondly, it tackles head-on one of the arguments that the Government have used persistently—the fact that the measures will directly benefit only a minority. Yes, that may well be the case, but that relieves the pressure on the annuity market and, indirectly, helps the remaining population, who wish to buy annuities.

It is therefore short-sighted of the Government to reject the Turner report’s approach.

Rob Marris: What does the hon. Gentleman believe that the minimum retirement income should be? How much?

Mr. Hoban: I shall not go down that route. As was debated during consideration of the private Members’ Bills—the issue has been debated in depth— several factors should be borne in mind. I am trying to emphasise that an alternative to the current arrangement could give people a wider choice in retirement. The minimum retirement income should be enough to ensure that people are not a burden on the state.

The outstanding issue from the Finance Act 2004 is the tax treatment of left-over funds. It is an inevitable consequence of the structure of alternatively secured pensions that there will be left-over funds, because the rules set a ceiling on the amount that can be withdrawn from the pension. It is therefore inevitable that, on death, the member will leave some left-over funds. That likelihood was mentioned in our deliberations on the Finance Bill in 2004, when the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), said:

Since that debate in 2004, a tax treatment has been introduced for the left-over funds in alternatively secured pensions that prevents them from being passed between generations tax-free and therefore achieves the goal set out in 2004 of preserving the integrity of the tax system. In new clause 7 and amendments Nos. 107 to 120, we are seeking to mirror that provision for the left-over funds in retirement income funds, so that they
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can be taxed in the same way as the left-over funds in an alternatively secured pension, and so that, when the funds pass to the spouse and dependents, inheritance tax would be paid.

We had a discussion in Committee about the interaction between income tax and inheritance tax. For the purposes of this debate, although we accept the position that the Government outlined in Committee, we would point out that tax rules are now in place to tackle the transfer of wealth from generation to generation, and that those same rules could be applied to retirement income funds.

The Government have now created the architecture to enable more people to opt out of compulsory annuitisation, through the introduction of alternatively secured pensions in the Finance Act 2004 and the inheritance tax regime in the Finance Bill. I do not wish to rehearse the arguments about why it is appropriate to end compulsory annuitisation, nor do I think that the Government will rush to accept the new clauses and amendments, but the fact that they have given way on the principle of compulsory annuitisation through the introduction of alternatively secured pensions creates a window of opportunity for them to think again.

I know that, in the pensions White Paper, the Government rejected some of the ideas from the Turner commission on changes to the annuities market, but they will have to monitor the appetite of the market for alternatively secured pensions, following A-day and the introduction of the new inheritance tax regime. They will need to respond to the pressures from the market for an alternative to the annuitisation of pensions at the age of 75.

For the benefit of those Members who did not participate in the Standing Committee, amendments Nos. 62 and 14 relate to the rules on the recycling of lump sums in clause 159. In Committee, I expressed concern that the clause could be applied broadly, as it seeks to capture circumstances in which people pay significantly higher pension premiums in the knowledge that they will receive a higher lump sum. That opportunity has been available for some time, but it is only since the simplification of pensions after A-day that this has become an issue, because of the relaxation of the contribution cap and the facility for pension scheme members to withdraw a lump sum without drawing a full pension.

The Government’s principal concern was what the Economic Secretary referred to as “turbo-charging”. The example that he used in Committee was of someone who withdrew a cash lump sum from their pension, reinvested it in another scheme, obtained 40 per cent. tax relief on that reinvestment, withdrew 25 per cent. of the amount invested as a lump sum, reinvested that 25 per cent. in another scheme, obtained a further batch of tax relief at 40 per cent., withdrew 25 per cent. of that amount—and so the cycle would continue as the contributions were recycled.

Clause 159 would stop the abuse of that mechanism, but it could also capture a series of legitimate pre-retirement tax planning arrangements. However, to limit the scope of this rather brief clause, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has produced a significant
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quantity of guidance notes—28 pages containing 21 different examples of how the rules apply—to clarify its remit. The rules are complex, and some industry experts have expressed their concern about that. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales has said that

I will come back to the use of the word “envisaged” later, so as to recapture the spirit of our debate in Committee.

Rachel Vahey of Scottish Widows has said:

She has also said that the rules are worrying as they seem to be very complicated—which is what had been feared—particularly as all the examples show how difficult it is to calculate whether contributions have increased significantly. She points out that, as it is up to the scheme administrator to apply the charge to the member if they own up to recycling tax-free cash, any charge that the administrator incurs may also be passed on to the individual, which could leave the member with a charge equivalent to about 70 per cent. of the tax-free lump sum.

Rachel Vahey added:

Her conclusion about the Government was:

Iain Oliver, the head of pensions at Norwich Union, has said:

He also said that recycling pension contributions—by taking a tax-free lump sum and reinvesting it to obtain tax relief and a further lump sum—could perhaps be prevented by changes to the self-assessment form or by ruling out its promotion in the Financial Services Authority’s code of business rules. He went on to say that HMRC’s latest guidance would mean additional paperwork for clients to read and a penalty charge of 55 per cent. on lump sums paid.

John Lawson, the head of pensions policy at Standard Life, has said that the proposals will be unworkable because the reporting requirements will
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fall on the individual taxpayer, creating the strong possibility that they will make mistakes or overlook parts of the guidance. He said:

Lawson also asks how the Revenue will prove that people are pre-planning the recycling of tax-free cash, saying:

That is an understatement.

7 pm

I am afraid that anyone seeking clarity on the interaction of those elements from the proceedings in the Committee will end up confused. The Economic Secretary waxed philosophical in Committee. In a Committee stage that had previously been characterised by arguments based on law and accountancy, that was the first debate that drew on the works of the American philosopher Donald Davidson, whose work “Actions, Reasons and Causes” was on the Economic Secretary’s reading list and clearly influenced the debate on the word “envisaged”. During an exchange on what is now sub-paragraph (2)(b) of new schedule 3A, the Economic Secretary said

The Institute of Chartered Accountants has said of the word “envisaged”:

My goodness! That exchange, and those surrounding it, certainly demonstrated that.

Before the debate, I took the opportunity to find out a bit more about Professor Davidson. He wrote copiously about natural semantics, something with which I suspect the Economic Secretary is familiar. Perhaps he has used natural semantics himself at various times in his professional career, both inside and outside the House.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): What about neo-endogenous growth theory?

Hon. Members: Post-neo-classical!

Mr. Hoban: Was it “neo-classical post-endogenous growth cycle”, or a combination of those words in no particular order?

I consulted Professor Davidson’s biography to see whether he had written anything about economics, but he had refrained from doing so, dealing entirely with semantics, causes and actions.

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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have allowed some relaxation of the strict rules of debate, but I think that now we are straying a little wide of the new clause.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way? I may be able to help him to return to the new clause.

Mr. Hoban: I give way to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend again explain to the Minister that once tax law is complicated to the extent that it is beyond the ken of ordinary people, they cease to believe in its fairness? There is a fundamental problem with the kind of complication with which he has delighted us today. It is not reasonable to make people expect their affairs to be so complicated that they require the kind of advice that is available only to the very richest.

Mr. Hoban: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for putting me back on track—as, indeed, did you, Madam Deputy Speaker. He has made an important point. We are asking taxpayers to examine the rules carefully, and to draw their own conclusions about whether they may be recycling lump sums. The amounts involved are relatively small: they may be as little as 1 per cent. of a person’s lifetime allowance, which is £15,000.

Rob Marris rose—

Mr. Hoban: The hon. Gentleman must realise that a number of people will build up £60,000 in their pension funds, and £15,000 is 25 per cent. of that. People with pension funds of that size will not be in a financial position to seek the expertise of members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, such as myself, or lawyers or pension advisers. There is a real issue here: to what extent will people be able to interpret the Bill and the fairly detailed explanatory notes, and reach their own conclusions?

What will ultimately dissuade those people is the threat of having to pay 55 per cent. of the lump sum as a penalty. People who might otherwise wish to embark on sensible pre-retirement planning may find it difficult. We should also bear in mind that the pension contribution that is required to trigger the charges is only 30 per cent. of £15,000—£4,500. Relatively small sums could have an impact on someone’s overall pension. I believe that the law should be clear and straightforward so that people can understand, and that there should be some certainty.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ed Balls) rose—

Mr. Hoban: I shall explain in a moment how we might provide that certainty, but I think the Economic Secretary wants to “envisage” something first.

Ed Balls: I shall resist the temptation to return to past debates. I merely wanted to give some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). The hon. Gentleman
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quoted a number of advisers who may or may not have been involved in the marketing of these schemes. May I give him a quotation from the Chartered Institute of Taxation, which may provide some reassurance?

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