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Mr. Hoban: I am grateful to the Minister for spending some time discussing the amendments, although on several occasions he has referred to the debate in Committee on schedule 10 and structural assets. I asked lots of questions in that debate, and did not get many answers. I am therefore grateful for the letter that he sent to me explaining the Government’s views on structural assets, and the issues that the life
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assurance industry raised about the way in which assets held in funds were treated when sold, and what the appropriate capital gains tax treatment would be. It is important to acknowledge that the Treasury and the industry, by working together, have reached a satisfactory solution, and have made progress towards simplifying the tax regime for life assurance companies.

In the Economic Secretary’s letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) on 21 June, he referred to regulations needing to be made for more complex areas. I would be grateful if he could outline when those will be introduced and what discussion there will be with the industry to ensure that consensus is reached on the right way of treating those more complex issues. Will they be decided on a case-by-case basis, or will general rules be introduced to cover all those complicated matters?

Ed Balls: We will continue to consult the industry and will introduce the regulations at the earliest opportunity for consultation. We will ensure that we set out in writing the position case by case so that all the details are available. We will produce them when the consultation is completed. It is important to get the detail right. That is what we have done. We will consult fully to ensure that they are operational as soon as possible, but that will happen only once the consultation has been completed in a satisfactory manner.

Mr. Soames: I rise only to ask the hon. Gentleman if he will note with care the very powerful strictures to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the future Prime Minister—from the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who was most critical of the pensions policy—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have a great deal of affection for the hon. Gentleman, but he is going too far. We are discussing a set of amendments that are very tightly drafted. I know that he will have every respect for the Chair and will not proceed in that manner. I ask him not to do so, and I notice that he has been very kind in agreeing to my suggestion.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 20, page 159, line 34, leave out ‘omit “or as a business transfer-out”’ and insert

No. 21, page 161, line 32, leave out from ‘made,’ to end of line 35.— [Ed Balls.]

Schedule 10

Insurance companies: miscellaneous

Amendments made: No. 22, page 162, leave out lines 39 to 41.

No. 23, page 163, line 29, at end insert—

‘(7A) In subsection (6) above “the relevant time” means—

(a) in a case where assets become structural assets held in any of the company’s non-profit funds by virtue of the commencement of this section, the end of the last period of account of the company beginning before 1st January 2007, and

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(b) otherwise, the time when the assets become structural assets held in any of the company’s non-profit funds.’.

No. 24, page 163, line 38, leave out ‘subsection (6) above’ and insert ‘this section’.

No. 25, page 163, leave out lines 43 to 48.

No. 26, page 164, leave out lines 1 to 5 and insert—

‘(11) Regulations made by the Treasury may make provision for computing for the purposes of the Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992 any gain or loss arising on a disposal by an insurance company of a structural asset held in a non-profit fund in any case where the condition in subsection (11A) is met.

(11A) The condition in this subsection is met if, in any period of account of the company in which the asset was held by it—

(a) income arising from the asset was (or, had there been any, would have been) referable to any category of long-term business the profits of which fell for that period of account to be computed in accordance with the provisions applicable to Case I of Schedule D, or

(b) the company was charged to tax on the profits of its life assurance business under Case I of Schedule D.’.

No. 27, page 164, line 18, at end insert—

‘( ) Regulations under subsection (3) or (11) above may be made so as to have effect in relation to periods of account current when they are made (as well as periods of account beginning later).”.’.

No. 28, page 170, line 1, leave out ‘sub-paragraph’ and insert ‘sub-paragraphs (4A) and’.

No. 29, page 170, line 21, leave out ‘84(2) to (6)’ and insert ‘84(2), (3), (5) and (6)’.— [Ed Balls.]

Schedule 19

Alternatively secured pensions and transfer lump sum death benefit etc

Mr. Hoban: I beg to move amendment No. 44, page 226, line 8, leave out from ‘least’ to end of line 9 and insert

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 47, page 226, line 9, at end insert—

‘(1A) The total amount of a spouse’s, or civil partner’s alternatively secured pension paid to a spouse or civil partner of a member of a registered pension scheme in each alternatively secured pension year in respect of a money purchase arrangement under the pension scheme must be at least equivalent to the Minimum Retirement Income for the alternatively secured pension year (but subject to sub-section 5 below).’.

No. 45, page 226, line 10, after ‘dependants’’, insert ‘(other than spouses’ or civil partners’)’.

No. 46, page 226, line 11, after ‘dependant’, insert

No. 49, page 226, line 31, after ‘(1)’, insert ‘(1A)’.

No. 48, page 227, line 7, at end insert—

‘(8) In relation to minimum retirement income as mentioned in subsection (1) above, the following provisions shall apply—

(a) the amount of the minimum retirement income in respect of each tax year shall be set by the Treasury by order at the level of the standard minimum guarantee prescribed under section 2 of the State Pension Credit Act 2002 (c.16);

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(b) before making an order under this subsection, the Treasury shall consult such persons as it considers appropriate;

(c) an order under this subsection (other than the order that applies to the first tax year during which this section is in force) must be made on or before the 31st January of the tax year before the tax year to which the order applies.’.

Government amendment No. 33

Mr. Hoban: The amendments would amend schedule 19, which introduces a minimum draw-down from alternatively secured pensions. Those pensions have been a feature of Finance Bill debates in three of the past four years. It may help hon. Members if they understand some of the background.

In response to concerns expressed by the Christian Brethren, the Government legislated in 2004 for alternatively secured pensions, which in effect ended compulsory annuitisation at age 75. In 2006, they introduced new rules to determine the tax on the annuitised pot of ASP members on death. However, the Economic Secretary decided that even the new complex rules on inheritance tax and ASPs were not enough to discourage people from buying them and therefore introduced even more draconian rules, increasing the tax rate on death to a maximum of 82 per cent. and introducing a new minimum draw-down from the funds, which is the focus of the amendments.

The amendments are relatively modest compared with those tabled in previous years. The Pensions Bill was amended in the other place to reflect proposals made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) in his private Member’s Bill to set up a retirement income fund as an alternative to compulsory annuitisation. We will have a longer and fuller debate on the issues when the Pensions Bill returns from the Lords shortly, but my amendments are narrowly drafted to reflect one particular aspect: the draw-down.

10.30 pm

Schedule 19 as drafted stipulates that an ASP member must withdraw a minimum of 55 per cent. of the basis amount for the ASP year. That amount is determined on an annual basis by the Government Actuary based on the life expectancy of a 75-year-old. My approach is to substitute 55 per cent. with the minimum amount of income required to ensure that someone does not need to rely on state benefits—a concept that underpins the Bill of my right hon. and learned Friend and the amendments passed in the Lords.

I accept that setting any minimum level of draw-down is difficult, but by setting the minimum threshold in that way, it would give members of ASPs more freedom over the use of their retirement assets. My concern about the Government’s approach is that it compels members to draw down income that could be surplus to their immediate needs if they have income from other sources. Based on the way in which the schedule is drafted, if members do not draw down 55 per cent. of the basis amount, they will be penalised. My measure could be criticised for being as crude as the Government’s approach, in that it does not take into account other sources of income, but it would give members of the ASP scheme more flexibility. That
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would increase the flexibility and attractiveness of ASPs and would make the product much more suited to the needs of pensioners.

As the debate in the Lords demonstrated, there is a growing consensus on creating more flexibility in pension arrangements. In the debate on that point in the other place, Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, who is the architect of the pensions reforms going through Parliament at the moment, said that

He also argued that

Lord Turner hits the nail on the head. Increasingly, it is the Government who are out of step with the views of pensioners and the industry, and it is the Government who need to understand more about the pressures that are arising in the pensions debate.

My amendments do not tackle the exit charge on death, which is also addressed in Lord Turner’s comments, but they do tackle the amount to be drawn down from the fund. Increasingly, people will look for alternatives to annuitisation as the growth in defined contributions schemes increases, and my amendments would make an ASP more attractive to those approaching retirement. It is worth reflecting on the pressures in the system. The Office for National Statistics shows that between 1997 and 2005 employee membership of defined benefit pension schemes, such as the scheme that hon. Members benefit from, fell from 46 per cent. to 35 per cent., while membership of defined contribution schemes increased from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. Those are the people who will end up on retirement with a pot of money to be invested in annuity or some alternative way to provide a retirement income—perhaps something that is more flexible than the arrangements on offer at the moment.

The switch from defined benefit to defined contribution schemes has been especially evident for smaller employers. That is an indicator of the potential increase in demand for annuities, but as Lord Turner indicated in the same debate:

If, through amendments such as these we can make alternatives to annuities more attractive, that will benefit those who wish to buy annuities instead of making their own arrangements in retirement. That reflects the growing consensus in the House of Lords debate. Lord Turner supported that principle, as did Baroness Hollis, a former Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions. Lord Howarth of Newport, having seen the damage that the Chancellor had caused to pension funds, also supported the proposals.

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There is a progressive consensus on this issue, but the Government are out of step with it—

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): Indeed! Once he gets his peerage, the Economic Secretary will agree with us.

Mr. Hoban: Compulsion to take out annuities is increasingly regarded as a barrier to saving for retirement, so we need a wider range of options. The amendments would give greater flexibility as to the minimum income to be drawn down from an ASP, thus creating a more attractive alternative to an annuity. There is cross-party support in the Lords for the principle, and it is time for the Government to decide whether they want to be part of the consensus, or to continue in their dogged determination to oppose giving people choice over how they manage their retirement funds.

Ed Balls: I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), and will try to deal with the points that he made. Ministers faced some distraction from those on the Opposition Front Bench, but we managed to focus on the issue at hand.

We are very keen to see a progressive consensus being formed in this House, and I encourage pretty much all hon. Members—not all, but almost all—to consider joining us in that cause in due course.

Mr. Soames: Stamford and Spalding already has!

Ed Balls: Before I turn to alternatively secured pensions, I shall speak briefly about Government amendment No. 33, which makes a minor change to the pension commencement lump sum rules included in schedule 20. One of the technical improvements in schedule 20 will allow more time for the tax-free pension commencement lump sum to be paid, and to allow it to be paid after a member has reached age 75, if the entitlement to that lump sum arose before that age. However, the published Bill omitted a consequential amendment to a regulation-making power in the Finance Act 2004, with unintended and potentially adverse results. Government amendment No. 33 will be welcomed by the industry, because it allows the regulations to continue to operate as originally intended. I am sure that the proposal will be uncontroversial for most hon. Members.

I turn now to ASPs, the subject of amendments Nos. 44 to 49 and one I spoke about at length in our debate on pension term assurance during the Committee of the whole House. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the Committee stage, as I had to attend the ECOFIN meeting in Brussels—

Mr. Osborne: Why? Where was the Chancellor?

Ed Balls: I think that he was quite busy at the time, but I cannot remember exactly why. I think that he is quite looking forward to his new job—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The Economic Secretary should respond to the debate.

Ed Balls: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made clear in the debate in the whole House, it is important to set out the principle behind the generous tax relief that we provide for pension savings. First, we believe that generous tax relief is provided to support pension saving, where that produces an income in retirement. Pension tax relief is not there to support pre-retirement income, nor to support accumulation or inheritance.

Secondly, we believe that pensions should get more favourable tax treatment compared to other forms of savings, in recognition of the fact that they are less flexible than other savings and are locked away until retirement. Thirdly, we believe that incentives for employer contributions should be provided and, finally, we consider the pensions tax incentives must be affordable and fall within the current fiscal projections. Given that we are talking at the moment, in 2006-07, about a total of £16 billion of tax incentives to encourage people to save for retirement, as a sensible and proper Government we need to make sure that we use that £16 billion wisely. That is why it is right to take these issues seriously.

Stewart Hosie: How much of that £16 billion goes towards tax incentives for those saving on alternatively secured pensions? I just want to get an idea of the scale of the issue.

Ed Balls: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a detailed answer. I would say that, in Finance Bill terms, it would count as “neg”—negligible. Without wanting to return to the earlier debates about the philosophical difference between zero and close to zero, my guess is that it would be pretty close to zero.

The Government believe that the best way for the majority of people to save is to secure an income in retirement by saving through a pension and then purchasing an annuity. An annuity provides an income for life, regardless of how long life turns out to be. As one of our steps towards a progressive consensus, I should point out that the Pensions Commission endorsed that basic principle in its report when it said:

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