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The Government held that the primary aim of pension tax relief was to encourage saving in a pension. After the consultation of February 2000, the Government stated:

History shows that what had been a very small market before that decision became a negligible one, and that 10 per cent. of overall contributions was not sufficient to incentivise people to go into the pension-related term assurance market, given the nature of the business.

The Government embarked on a process of simplification, at each point making it clear that the goal was

That was what drove our thinking. In the second pension simplification document of December 2003, we said that

1 May 2007 : Column 1407

That was the background to the debate on the 2004 Finance Bill, when the then Financial Secretary undertook the pensions simplification process. However, there was no reference in the legislation to pension term assurance—the expression did not exist at the time. The market for pensions-related term assurance was negligible at the time, and there was no intention to encourage a term-assurance market link to pensions, nor any discussion of such an intention during proceedings on the Finance Bill. There was a simplification of the pensions and tax regime to provide income in retirement.

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There was some discussion between the industry and the Government as to whether the simplification would lead to the growth of a pension term assurance market and whether the changes in tax relief for pensions might lead to migration or churning in the term assurance market. However, there was no consensus for the view that the changes posed a material risk. Following discussions with industry players, the then Financial Secretary concluded that there was not a material risk that the changes we were making to tax relief for pensions retirement income would be likely to lead to a rapid growth in a pensions-related term assurance market.

Mr. Hoban: Given the history of tax relief for life assurance, is the Economic Secretary surprised that his predecessor made that mistake?

Ed Balls: We had an interesting debate on those matters earlier, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) referred to debates on past Finance Bills. In an intervention, I mentioned SIPPs. At the time, public debate and Members made it clear that there was concern that the SIPPs changes could have undesirable effects and the concerns were dealt with then. However, there was no discussion of the term assurance issue during the Finance Bill; it was never raised by Opposition Members and nor was it a subject of public debate. Technical discussions as to whether the changes posed a material risk concluded that they were not, and that the benefits of simplification outweighed the risk. It was not a mistake; it was a judgment that simplification benefits were more important than a risk that, at the time, was judged not to be material.

That was the position for the next two years and during the run-up to A-day. However, by September 2006 it became clear that although the products were completely within the law—they were not the means of tax avoidance—a substantial re-badging of the term assurance market was taking place. Many life companies did not sell the products as pension term assurance, which would have been a confusing label as they had nothing to do with pensions; they were about death benefit. The policies were often marketed as term assurance with tax relief—term assurance with the benefit of pension tax relief. In many cases, they were not marketed as pension tax relief.

I was asked for some figures. Before A-day the number of contracts sold that could be described as pension tax relief—term assurance linked to pensions—was in the low thousands; the number was
1 May 2007 : Column 1408
negligible. In the fourth quarter of 2005, the number of mortgage-related term assurance contracts sold was 238,154. From the beginning of 2006, when almost no policies were being sold, the number rose to 58,046 products—from almost nothing to 20 per cent. of the term assurance market—whereas the number of mortgage-related term assurance products fell from about 238,000 to 190,161. What happened was perfectly understandable and, in retrospect, predictable: a substantial, tax-driven switch from mortgage-related term assurance to a term assurance that qualified for pension tax relief, but was often not marketed as such because it had no pension income. To my mind, and that of several Members, including perhaps the hon. Member for Fareham, that was not what we intended; our intention was not that pension tax relief should be used to sell what was, in essence, a non-pension product.

Last autumn, it was put to me that costs anticipated as negligible to the Exchequer were set to rise from about £25 million last year to about £160 million a year in five years’ time—as the hon. Member for Fareham pointed out. Over a five-year period there would be a cost to the Exchequer of slightly more than £500 million. That is £500 million of taxpayers’ money being spent on tax relief actions that people had previously taken without tax relief for, in essence, the same product—a non-pensions-related death benefit that some years before we, as a country, had decided not to tax-advantage. All our consultation documents made it clear that was not our intention and that was why we decided to act in the pre-Budget report.

The report made a clear statement that there was a substantial risk to the taxpayer, that the practice was outside our intentions and that the right thing was to address it with immediate effect. That is what we did. However, we did not say that there was necessarily an end to any link between pensions and term assurance. With the pensions industry, we wanted to find out whether we could establish an ongoing, meaningful link between term assurance policies and saving for a pension, which would not have disproportionate costs and would not mean that a large proportion of the tax relief was going to a death benefit rather than to pension saving.

We consulted the ABI, the Association of Independent Financial Advisers, the Society of Pension Consultants and the Investment and Life Assurance Group. The area is complex and we looked at several options: a test at the point of sale, to confirm that the policyholder was also a member of a relevant pension scheme; a cap on the total sum assured; a test at the point of claim; and ongoing sampling of policies by HMRC to check for fraud. Some in the industry, including the ABI, considered that some of the options might be workable, but after our consultation we found it impossible to set out a way forward that would be both commercially viable and consistent with our intentions and principles.

The problem was that the checks needed to make sure that term assurance, which is a high-volume low-margin product, was genuinely pension-related were disproportionate to the administrative costs that the industry could bear. A cap could work only if it was so high that there would be a death benefit rather than a pension income benefit. We would then have been
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forced to concede the sum of £500 million over five years. The people selling those products would have been willing for us to make that decision, but we felt that we could not do so because we could not justify expenditure of £500 million on what was largely a deadweight cost.

That is why we decided to bring tax relief back into line with our intentions and to make it clear that we could not see a way forward that was consistent with our principles. Some in the industry agreed with our approach. An expert at AEGON Scottish Equitable said:

its proposals are—

It was on that basis that we decided that we could not proceed.

The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) asked about losers—an issue also taken up in an intervention by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne). The fact is that before A-day, the market barely existed: it was negligible. The market then grew very rapidly. Everyone who took advantage of it during that period is grandfathered—we are not withdrawing tax relief from anyone who took out products up to the time of the pre-Budget report, or, indeed, for a period afterwards when transitional arrangements applied. Our tax changes take us back to the position ex ante. There are no losers, though people who might have benefited from the more lax regime in future will not do so now because we have gone back to the status quo. As I have explained, I think that the right decision was taken.

Mr. Gauke: I note that point, but has the Treasury done any analysis of the type of people who were taking advantage of the regime in the period after A-day and before the pre-Budget report announcements?

Ed Balls: As I said, all the people who were taking advantage will have their benefits protected. It is not true to describe those people as either the very rich or tax avoiders. We are talking about people who previously took out mortgage-related term assurance or life assurance products and then benefited from the tax relief that came from the re-badging of those life assurance policies. It was never our intention—nor, in my view, the intention of the House—to tax advantage those life assurance policies. That is why we are returning to the status quo.

Mr. Gauke: I am seeking clarification about whether a particular type of person benefited from that regime while it existed? For example, was it generally the self-employed or contractors who took out this sort of product in the relevant period?

Ed Balls: No, I do not think so. Those who benefited were those who took out assurance policies such as life
1 May 2007 : Column 1410
assurance. I pressed the hon. Member for Fareham to agree with me a number of times about that and eventually, on my fourth attempt, he did. Unless the Conservative party is willing to put up the £500 million to pay for an alternative proposal, I think that the hon. Gentleman and I are agreed that tax-advantaging life assurance products through pension tax relief is not the way forward. If so, we were right to sort out the problem at the earliest opportunity. We did so, despite the fact that in the period before we took our decision, we were not pressured by Opposition Members or anyone else to do so. As I said, we put transitional arrangements in place, which were widely communicated to the industry and, I think, welcomed by it as a way of sorting out the difficult pipeline cases. Indeed, we were praised by the ABI for so doing.

Rob Marris: Will my hon. Friend tell the House how difficult he believes it would have been to sort out the loophole that was being exploited if we had adopted the Liberal Democrat policy of having a Finance Bill every two years instead of every year?

Ed Balls: We would have had a considerably longer period between our decisive decision at the time of the pre-Budget report and the eventual enactment of the Finance Bill provisions, though our decision to act would not have been delayed because at that time the revenue risk was too great.

I am not going to say that there are no lessons to be learned from the experience. In retrospect, the Government could have been clearer about their intentions and I believe that both the Government and the insurance industry together could learn some lessons about the process involved in tax policy making. Indeed, I spoke earlier today to the director general of the ABI about how to learn such lessons for future tax policy.

In conclusion, the decision was taken in order to restore the Government’s intentions to protect the tax base and to ensure that what we set out to do and what the Finance Bill legislated for—to tax-advantage retirement saving—was, in fact, what happened. It was never our intention to tax-advantage assurance. I do not think that the hon. Member for Fareham is proposing so to do, but if he wants to stump up the £500 million necessary to oppose the clause, I will be very interested to find out how he is going to pay for it.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 262, Noes 145.
Division No. 104]
[6.14 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Balls, Ed
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin

Burnham, Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Mr. Jimmy
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall, Mr. David
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann

Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, Edward
Miller, Andrew
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Seabeck, Alison
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watson, Mr. Tom
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, Mr. Michael
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Alan Campbell and
Mr. Dave Watts

Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Baldry, Tony
Baron, Mr. John
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brokenshire, James
Browning, Angela
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Davies, Philip
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M.
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Evennett, Mr. David

Fabricant, Michael
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Lamb, Norman
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mulholland, Greg
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Wilshire, Mr. David
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wishart, Pete
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Robert Goodwill and
Mr. Simon Burns
Question accordingly agreed to.
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