“The Government’s decision on Fair deal means that…independent schools which already have access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme

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will continue to do so (for existing and new teachers); and new teachers and independent schools will continue to be able to join the scheme under the existing qualifying criteria.”

When we debated the issue in Committee, the hon. Member for Nottingham East conceded that the new fair deal

“is an improvement on the current fair deal arrangements”,

but, as he has just now, he complained that

“the promise does not appear in the Bill.”––[Official Report, Public Services Pensions Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2012; c. 458.]

He will be aware, however, that the fair deal arrangements were non-statutory when they were introduced in 1999, and that they remained non-statutory when they were revised in 2004. Notwithstanding the fact that the new fair deal arrangements are an improvement on the old ones, if it is good enough for a Labour Government for the policy to be non-statutory, it ought to be good enough for the hon. Gentleman. As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear in Committee, the recently published Government response to the fair deal consultation included draft guidance setting out how the new policy would work in practice. Given all the public statements by my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and the published guidance and consultation documents, the hon. Gentleman should be assured by the commitments given.

Chris Leslie: Does the hon. Gentleman not understand the sense of anxiety that many public sector employees feel? Their trust was shattered because of the unilateral decisions on RPI to CPI and the 3%. They are saying, “Don’t we need more safeguards?” Can he understand why they would want safeguards now that might not have been necessary in the past?

Mr Gibb: Of course, that is an assertion by the hon. Gentleman. I do not recognise that crushing of confidence. What the Government had to do when they came into office was tackle a huge public sector deficit of £156 billion, and they have done that. As a consequence of the difficult decisions the Government have taken, the capital markets have been assured that the Government are getting the public finances under control. That itself should assure beneficiaries of public service pensions that the Government will put the public finances in a stable condition and so avoid the need for the sort of draconian changes to public service pensions being implemented in other European countries as they seek, rather belatedly, to tackle their public deficits.

Sheila Gilmore: Why does the hon. Gentleman think that that is a comfort, given that, as far as we can see, the Government’s deficit reduction plans are failing and debt is rising? In the light of that, many public service workers might well expect another bite at the cherry.

Mr Gibb: I fear that we are straying slightly from new clause 3 and the group of amendments, but I believe that the Government’s economic strategy is right. It is a judgment call, but one that I believe has been proven right by the fact that the Government’s borrowing cost for 10-year bonds, as they seek to fund the deficit, which has been reduced by a quarter over the last two and a half years, is 1.8%. That is a tribute to the difficult

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judgments Treasury Ministers have made, and they should be given credit for their achievements. As a consequence, however, there have had to be increases in the contribution rates of active members of public service pension schemes. In addition, Lord Hutton believes that even if there was not a deficit, major reform of public service pensions would still be needed, if they are to be sustainable in the long run.

The Government’s commitment to sustainable public finances is of more concrete value than a proposal from a party with a track record of undermining the public finances. Ultimately, in a pay-as-you-go public service pension scheme, the quality and assurance that members want will depend on the ability of the Government to maintain stable public finances.

John McDonnell: I rise to speak to the amendments in my name: amendments 4, 7 and 8.

Throughout the progress of the Bill, I have tabled a series of amendments with a central thrust—the same one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie)—which is about trust. The amendments would ensure that at each stage and for each grouping, there would be full consultation with and the full involvement of representatives of employees and scheme members. I apologise: I should have declared an interest as a member of the local government pension scheme. Nevertheless, each amendment would address the issue of confidence and secure a recognition, as promised by the Government, that employees will be fully consulted and represented and kept fully informed of changes to their pension schemes, which has not been the case up to now.

It is worth remembering that the pension deal was not a deal for a large number of unions; for more than 1 million workers, it was imposed. The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, the National Union of Teachers, the Public and Commercial Services Union, the Prison Officers Association, the University and College Union and Unite did not agree to the deal or the heads of agreement; instead, the deal was imposed upon them. There is deep scepticism amongst workers, and if Government Members do not recognise that, they are not living in the real world, or encountering the same constituents I am, or receiving the letters I get from police officers, teachers and local government workers across the piece.

Even organisations that signed up to the heads of the deal are now expressing concerns. The British Medical Association, whose briefing Members will have received, thought it had signed up to an assurance from the Government, which I remember being made, that there would be a 25-year guarantee of no change around a number of protected issues. The Government said:

“This means that no changes to scheme design, benefits or contribution rates should be necessary for 25 years outside of the processes agreed for the cost cap. To give substance to this, the Government intends to include provisions on the face of the forthcoming Public Service Pensions Bill to ensure a high bar is set for future Governments to change the design of the schemes. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will also give a commitment to Parliament of no more reform for 25 years.”

Yet clause 3, described in briefings by the Royal College of Nursing, the BMA and others as a Henry VIII clause, gives extraordinary powers to the Secretary of

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State to return to these issues, introduce further reforms and make fairly significant changes through statutory instruments, not primary legislation to be debated in the House. Consequently, there is a lack of confidence in the words of Ministers, particularly given that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said, those words are contradictory, not just across Government, but within the same Department. It is extraordinary.

Others also signed the deal. The RCN wrote to us explaining its concerns:

“Clause 3(3) is a Henry VIII clause which enables the Government to amend the Act at a later date through the use of secondary legislation. The RCN is concerned that, as a result, the Bill gives powers to the UK Government to amend and make retrospective provisions to any other related legislation without sufficient member consultation or scrutiny by Parliament.”

I also received a letter from Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which also signed up to the deal. She wrote:

“As you may know, the ATL accepted the Government’s proposed final agreement on changes to the teachers pension scheme as the best that could be achieved through negotiations. We now find the Bill contains additional elements that go beyond what was agreed in March 2012 and believe that the proposed changes could adversely and unfairly affect the quality of education that the nation’s children receive in our schools.”

Andy Sawford: Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern among police officers, highlighted last week in an excellent Westminster Hall debate led by our right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)? Many police officers feel that the arrangements they have made for their later life and approach to retirement—for doing things such as helping their children to get into housing or paying their university fees—have been completely undermined by changes that have pulled the rug from under them right at the end of their working life, after they have made an incredible contribution to keeping our communities safe. It is those kinds of people we must think about today as we make these changes. As my hon. Friend says, we must give them much greater confidence and assurance.

John McDonnell: I fully concur with my hon. Friend. I received—perhaps he did too—an e-mail from Inspector Nick Smart, who wrote:

“I am a serving police inspector in West Yorkshire of 17 years. I am about to see my life plans thrown into chaos with the proposed pension changes, with my retirement age extended by at least two years plus a 20% cut in my lump sum—about £40,000—and a significantly worse annual pension.”

It is no wonder that people are demoralised and do not trust the Government. They thought there was at least a 25-year guarantee, but we now know that that is not the case, because the Government are giving themselves the power to change schemes at will in the future.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will be aware of the indication that teachers will be asked to pay 50% of their contributions up until 2015, and they are not even safeguarded beyond 2015. Does he agree that, if the Government are not careful, they will create a breeding ground for discontent among teachers?

John McDonnell: Exactly, but I think it is across the piece. Whether or not we agreed with the last negotiations, or whether they were imposed or signed up to, at least some people felt there was some security for the future.

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People are becoming demoralised, which is why it is important that we insert in the Bill provisions for full consultation and agreement with organisations representing employees and for full openness and transparency. That is why new clause 3, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, is critical. As has been said, at least in the private sector there is full display and transparency in what people sign up to, but there is no display or transparency in the public sector, particularly now that the Government have given themselves these powers.

Mr MacNeil: Given the comments about the police pension scheme, I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands the wish of the Scottish Police Federation that police pensions be controlled independently in Scotland. For England and Wales, however, does he feel that in future Governments should act more morally in relation to the terms of agreements that were made years before and under which police officers expect to retire, while also understanding, of course, that in Scotland they want clear of the system?

John McDonnell: I can fully understand the feelings of police officers in Scotland, as I can those of officers across England and Wales. People now just want safety and security in their pensions, which are theirs—they have paid for them and contributed to them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said from the Front Bench, they are nothing more than deferred wages.

2 pm

Richard Fuller: I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s point. He is absolutely right that firefighters, prison workers, doctors and nurses contribute to their pensions, but so do taxpayers. Indeed, a considerable amount of most public pensions is paid for by the taxpayer. If he wishes to push the point about certainty, does he agree that the Government should have considered a fully funded pension scheme, rather than rely on future taxpayers to pay for future pensions, with all the uncertainty about whether they will be able to afford it? Should the Government not have grasped the nettle and gone for a fully funded pension scheme now?

John McDonnell: The local government scheme is fully funded, yet the Government seek to interfere with that, too. If we are to open up the debate, let us do so; however, the Government seem to be making piecemeal reforms for their own economic objectives and then not even standing by them. The problem is the uncertainty.

Let me turn to the detail of amendment 4. As those of us who have been involved in pension negotiations will know, one of the most important elements is ensuring that the valuation process is right, because that is what determines not just the future payouts from the scheme, but its future security; there are also probity issues. I am concerned that the legislation as drafted would give no role to employees or their representatives in the revaluation system. My amendment 4 is a mild-mannered amendment to provide that the valuation report should be sent not just to the scheme manager and the employer, but to the employees’ representatives. That would promote at least some openness and transparency, which might reassure participants in the scheme.

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Few pension decisions are more important to employees than the contribution levels, which stem from the valuation process. We have seen a unilateral change in contribution rates, which I think, to be frank, will deter many people from participating in those schemes and may throw the long-term future of those schemes into jeopardy. If there has been a valuation, the report should be sent to the employees’ representatives. It should be open and transparent, and it should then be possible to have a discussion about the valuation. That is what amendment 4 seeks to do. It simply says that the report should be sent not just to the scheme manager, but to the employee representatives, and that the terms of the revaluation should be mutually agreed. It is simply about participation.

Richard Fuller: Would the hon. Gentleman, like me, put this issue in the same area as transparency and giving information to people in pension schemes, which will help people to make better judgments? Just as we heard when new clause 2 was being moved, the provision of information about what is in their pension or how that is assessed helps people to make rational decisions.

John McDonnell: That is exactly right. There has to be openness and transparency. The point has already been made, but some of us will now have to go out there and campaign to keep people in these schemes. The way to do that is by having openness and transparency about what they are paying in, the benefits being made and, I agree, the overall contribution made by taxpayers.

I fear for the future. We have seen the Fire Brigades Union survey of what would happen if there were increases in pension contributions to those workers’ scheme and also a reduction in benefits. Some 30% told the survey that they would question whether they wished to continue in the scheme. A 30% withdrawal rate would undermine some of those schemes. That is why openness and transparency are important. One of the key areas for openness and transparency is in the valuation process, with the terminology and methodology agreed with the employee representatives, so that they have confidence that the process is being conducted fairly, openly and, to be frank, professionally. In addition, once the revaluation is done, the report should be provided to the employee representatives. I can see nothing in that with which the Government could disagree.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The hon. Gentleman is right that many of us might well have to campaign to ensure that people invest in and stick with these schemes, but even if we get valuation and transparency right, is there not a “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza” syndrome with these Henry VIII powers? People will say, “You can say all that, but you can’t promise that it will be so when I reach pension age.”

John McDonnell: I fully agree. What concerns me is that the Henry VIII powers in clause 3 are retrospective. This is another reason why the valuation process is so critical: if there is not full openness, transparency and consultation, in particular with employee representatives, the Government could in future use the valuation process to withdraw some of the benefits of the scheme or increase the contributions retrospectively. People can sign up to a scheme and pay into it for 20 years, but then

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be told that the benefits are different—although I think that will be tested in law, because I believe that legally we are talking about accrued rights that are protected under European legislation. The Government do not accept that argument, but it is a critical point. That is why I have tabled my amendments. The Government underestimate the anxiety and fears out there—particularly among trade unions, but also in other organisations—which arise from the lack of confidence in the future management of the schemes in the best interests of employees and members.

Let me turn to my amendments 7 and 8. The Government’s reform was meant to change the nature of the schemes, so that they would be based on career averages, exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said from the Front Bench. However, that is for a defined benefit scheme, not a defined contribution scheme, yet the Government have not committed themselves to that in the legislation. That is why I have tabled amendments 7 and 8, so that where a scheme is rearranged or staff are transferred into a new scheme, they must be defined benefit schemes, because that is what was promised in the negotiations with the trade unions. It is argued that we are binding future Governments, but all legislation is meant to bind future Governments, and any future Government could revisit this matter. At the same time, we need to try to give at least some security and ensure that the promises given by the present Government are adhered to. That is not much to ask, and it is all my amendments are designed to do.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman puts his finger exactly on the issue: insecurity for future pensioners. That, combined with ever-growing inequality in our society and the economic multipliers that we might see operating, means that people who are now living quite comfortably might be facing penury in their old age, due to the root insecurity at the base of this Bill, which he is doing a good job of exposing.

John McDonnell: In part, this is linked to other reforms that the Government are introducing—my hon. Friend the shadow Minister touched on this. Where changes have been made to the delivery of public services—some of this relates to outsourcing, reorganising government or delivering direct services through new Government agencies or public bodies—people understood that there would be a commitment from the Government that they would be transferred into the same scheme they are in now, which would be a defined benefit scheme. That is not in this Bill, which is why I have tabled my amendments.

The amendments put the onus on whatever bodies are established—non-departmental public bodies or whatever—to ensure that they offer a defined benefit scheme. If they do not, they are breaking the commitment that the Government gave. In addition, it will create a disincentive. When staff transfer, they transfer into the new scheme that will be established. Many people now in a defined benefit scheme—whatever its nature, whether final or average salary, although we are moving towards average salary—fear that if at some stage they move, they will be offered only a defined contribution scheme. That is why I want more certainty in the legislation. The amendments propose that whatever happens in the

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future, whatever restructuring the Government bring in and whatever new schemes are established, the Government will adhere to their promise that there must be a defined benefit scheme. I do not want to be cataclysmic about this, but if that does not happen, the legislation could undermine the whole provision of public service pensions. People could start to withdraw from the schemes because they did not have the certainty that they thought they had when they entered them.

The amendments might seem relatively minor, but they are absolutely key. If we do not bring the employees with us, if we do not consult their representatives, if we do not involve them in the valuation process and if we do not stand by the guarantee of a defined benefit scheme that they have been given, we will break down people’s confidence in the public sector pensions system overall, and we will certainly break down their confidence in this Government’s ability to adhere to their promises. This is not the 25-year guarantee of no further reform that we were given from the Dispatch Box only a matter of weeks ago.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I am always delighted to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). He and I have been circling around issues of local government finance and pensions for—

John McDonnell: For more years than I can remember.

Robert Neill: I have worked it out; it must be well over 30 years in chambers of one kind or another around London. We do not always come to the same conclusions, but I take on board the expertise that he brings to this topic. I agree with his point that it is important, when dealing with the schemes that he and I have been involved with, to give the members of the schemes an assurance that they will have a secure pension in future.

I have spent most of my life dealing with the local government pension scheme, and I am going to talk about that today. Indeed, I should declare an interest as a member of that scheme. I recognise that change often raises concern and creates a measure of insecurity, and it is the job of those of us who have governance of these schemes, locally and nationally, to deal with that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) pointed out, however, the biggest cause of insecurity and the biggest risk to scheme members would be the lack of a secure financial basis for the future of the scheme. That is why the Government’s reforms are necessary; that is the most important reassurance that we can give to people.

There are other important points that we can take on board in the context of the amendments, and I want to talk about the local government schemes in particular. It has already been recognised in the House that they fall into a different category because of their substantially funded nature, which places them in a different position, and because of the considerable diversity within the sector. There are a number of schemes involved, and they generally have a good management track record and a system of management that creates transparency and democratic accountability. I hope that we can ensure that the regulations that will finally embody the schemes will recognise those differences.

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I agree with the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) that we should take at face value the assurances given by those on the Treasury Bench, and I have no hesitation in doing so. I put it as gently as possible when I say that there has been a degree of needless raising of concern among scheme members, perhaps—dare I say it?—for partisan reasons. That is unhelpful.

John Healey: The hon. Gentleman is urging us to take at face value the statements from those on his Front Bench. Let me tell him what the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said in Committee about the concerns over the fair deal. He said that

“it is important that we consider in full the views of all stakeholders, including of course those who will be affected, through further consultation before making a final decision on the issue.”––[Official Report, Public Services Pensions Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2012; c. 459.]

I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, taken at face value, that suggests that the final decision has not yet been taken, contrary to the agreements reached with the trade unions on pensions reform.

Robert Neill: The right hon. Gentleman will know, as a former local government Minister, that there has already been considerable consultation and discussion on the shape of the local government schemes. In any event, there is to be a formal consultation as well. I do not read the same connotations into the Minister’s words as the right hon. Gentleman does. That is not my reading of the discussions to which I was party when I was a Minister. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we should be as transparent and upfront as possible in our discussions with scheme members.

2.15 pm

We need to move from our previous position, which was not financially sustainable, towards a better place. It is perfectly reasonable for my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues to be doing precisely that. I hope that, in so doing, they will recognise that the local government employers and unions have come to an agreement that meets the Government’s cost parameters. In my judgment, it also broadly reflects the particular circumstances and differences of the scheme.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that, even though the scheme will, for perfectly legitimate public policy reasons, require the sign-off of the Treasury, the ultimate shape of the scheme will be strongly informed by the particular expertise that exists in the local government world and among those who advised me in the Department for Communities and Local Government on the particular nature of these pension schemes and the best way to take these matters forward. I am prepared to accept that that can be done, and it is important that it should be done. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to reassure us on that point.

The other short points that I want to make involve technical issues. There is still time for us to consider some potential unintended consequences of the legislation, which it would not be inconsistent with the objectives of the Bill to resolve.

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Andy Sawford: I should have declared my interest as a member of the local government pension scheme when I first intervened. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that one of the technical issues, as those on our Front Bench have pointed out, is that the language we use should allude to the amendment of the schemes rather than to their closure? If the local government pension schemes that are currently in deficit were to be closed, the employers involved would immediately become liable to pay those deficits. That could have a hugely disruptive effect not only on the people receiving pensions now and in the future but on the local authorities themselves and the public services that they provide.

Robert Neill: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his arrival in the House. I have been dealing with him in the local government world for many years. I did my best to prevent him from coming here, but it clearly was not quite enough! He anticipates one of the technical issues that I was going to mention, and it is perhaps the most substantial one. Chronologically, it is not the first in relation to the Bill, but I might as well deal with it now for the sake of completeness.

I read with care the assurance that my hon. Friend the Minister gave in Committee. I entirely accept that it is not the Government’s intention to create crystallisation. However, I note that the finer details of the proposals are being considered, and we should look carefully at that. The Minister said that there was no requirement for the funds to be wound up, and I accept that, but I hope that he will consider the issues that have been raised by the Local Government Association about legal ambiguity.

I do not doubt that the Minister has no intention of creating a closure that would crystallise the debts of a scheme. That was always the basis on which I approached such negotiations when I was a Minister, and I am certain that nothing has changed in that regard. However, this was one area in which some of the nuttiest legal advice needed to be obtained—[Interruption.] I should have said “knottiest”. There is sometimes a risk of legal ambiguity, and that must be avoided at all costs. I would therefore urge my hon. Friend and his advisers at the Treasury to take on board the work that has been done in the DCLG and other Departments to find a means of resolving this issue. We all know where we want to end up, and I am sure that there is a means of achieving that. I know that the Minister’s skills and abilities will get us there. It is right to point out that some issues still need to be addressed, but they are not insurmountable in the context of where the Government want to get to. It is an important area to clarify to the maximum extent.

The other issue I want to touch on is governance. I hope that the Minister will consider the concerns raised by the Local Government Association and the unions about the lack of segregation between the scheme manager and the scheme board. Again, I do not think there is any dispute between us about where we want to end up, but it is a fact that the local government schemes have a good record in their management and a good record on transparency. When experienced representatives of local government employers raise concerns that the two functions of the scheme manager and the scheme board are difficult to reconcile within the same body, those concerns should not, in my judgment, be lightly dismissed. I note

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that the Minister sensibly and properly took on board the fact that there are still developments going on here and that proposals are still being developed. I hope that that will continue to be the case, and when he responds to the debate, he may be able to update us and reassure us that continuing discussions will take place with the experts in the local government sector to make sure that we get the best possible design for those matters.

Finally and more generally, I ask the Minister not to be deterred by undue reference to Henry VIII clauses. When I was taking the Localism Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill through the House, if I had £5 for every time I was criticised about Henry VIII clauses, I would have retired to some tax haven as a very rich man. [Interruption.] I probably would not have not done that actually as I enjoy being here so much. However, it is part of the knockabout banter we get here that Oppositions always say that there are excessive Henry VIII clauses, but when one looks back, one finds that when the Opposition move into government, they construct Bills with exactly the same sort of clauses. That is why I urge the Minister not to be put off by that; it is necessary to build in the flexibility that such clauses provide in any piece of legislation of this kind. What are important are the statements of intent about the manner in which those clauses should be used. I am sure that the Minister will be able to reassure us on that.

Mr MacNeil: What the hon. Gentleman said gives me the opportunity to peg in as a general point the fact that this debate is set against a backdrop of mood music that pensions are spiralling and are actually increasing, but the effect of the Bill is not to arrest pensions, but to cut them and to cut net contributions to pension schemes by 0.1% of gross domestic product, which is what the Government are saving. That, of course, is taken out of the pockets of many people who have worked hard for many years in our public services.

Robert Neill: The hon. Gentleman and I once worked out that we might have a very, very, very—however many “verys” we put into it—distant relative in common, but with every gentleness and respect, I would have to tell him that we do no good service at all to our public services by being unrealistic about the affordability of pension arrangements.

I talked about the intent with which we approach these matters and about honesty, transparency and being frank about the financial realities that underpin the schemes. This measure is a critical part of that. The most important service we can provide is to be frank and to produce a scheme, which I am satisfied the Bill does, that is financially sustainable for the future. We have talked about the technical issues, but the overall thrust of being financially honest about the affordability of our public sector pension schemes is absolutely critical—and the Government have got that right.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I begin by expressing my gratitude to the Clerks and to Mr Speaker for their forbearance in ensuring that the amendment tabled in my name is debated in the most appropriate group this afternoon. That said, there is but one lonely little amendment—amendment 32, which would amend clause 16—in my name in this group. In some ways, it is a very technical and practical amendment,

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but it would allow for the closure of existing Scottish schemes by 1 April 2016 instead of 2015. It would put these reforms on a much more realistic time scale.

I am sure Members will be aware that the Scottish Government have devolved executive competence for a number of aspects of a number of Scottish public sector pension schemes. There have been considerable delays in establishing exactly what flexibilities are open to the Scottish Government in those areas for which they have responsibility, and it has been difficult to gain clarity over what that process might look like. That has obviously had an impact on the negotiating process.

Gaining clarity has happened in an extremely piecemeal fashion. Back in March 2012, Ministers initiated partnership negotiations with employers and trade unions about the pension schemes of the NHS, teachers, police and firefighters. On 28 March, a letter arrived from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—I am sorry he is not with us for this debate—setting out some new constraints regarding the links between normal pension age and state pension age, which we will debate later. In May, there was more communication from the Chief Secretary, who informed the Scottish Government that they would require explicit Treasury consent for cost-sensitive changes to the teachers or the NHS schemes, and in July the Scottish Government were informed that the UK Government wanted to extend the Bill to non-departmental public bodies and Scottish judicial offices. At that stage, there was still no clarity on flexibilities relating to the pension age requirements, which everyone knows is a key sticking point in the negotiations.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I understand the hon. Lady’s point and I know that some of the trade unions have commented on the matter. Is she aware of the correspondence between the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Scottish Government in October, in which the Scottish Government were invited to suggest some amendments to the Bill? Is her amendment one of those that the Scottish Government suggested to the Chief Secretary or to other Ministers?

Dr Whiteford: I am afraid that I am not privy to the Scottish Government’s processes on this, so I cannot answer the hon. Lady’s question with any certainty whatever. What I can say is that the Scottish Government got clarity only a few weeks ago on the extent to which they can deviate from the proposals for England and Wales, and that the degree is quite limited indeed. I think the Scottish Government will have some flexibilities on accrual rates and some revaluation bases.

Mr MacNeil: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr Whiteford: I will not give way to my hon. Friend at the moment because I want to make some short remarks in this part of the debate, and save my fuller comments for later.

The Scottish Government also require explicit consent from the Treasury for any cost-sensitive changes to the NHS or teachers schemes.

Will the Minister accept my amendment and recognise how tight the time scales are, given the complex range of responsibilities—varying responsibilities relating to different schemes—and how tough the negotiations are? Not all partners to the negotiations even accept the need for

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this set of reforms. In 28 months’ time, when the provisions would otherwise commence, the Scottish Government would have had not only to complete the negotiations and prepare and pass legislation, but ensure that the employers and scheme administrators could prepare their systems and processes before the 2015 deadline.

This is a very technical amendment in some respects, but it is a very important one. I hope that the Minister will have listened carefully and will be pragmatic in his response to it later.

John Healey: I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) in the amendments he has tabled. Each and every one of them is important. Given that we are having a reflective debate on Report, I hope we will get a reflective response from the Economic Secretary at the end of our debate on this group.

Let me start where it seems to me that there has been a strong measure of agreement across the House—on the importance of having good, regular and accurate pensions information for scheme members. I think we could all agree that what should underpin our pension schemes—this relates to new clause 2—are higher standards of governance, openness and administration. Such underpinning, then, should be provided in this Bill’s provisions for those public service pension schemes in the future. There is bound to be greater confidence and trust in the schemes, along with better understanding of them, if members are given more information.

2.30 pm

We have all used Lord Hutton’s report as our starting point for the purposes of the Bill. Lord Hutton pointed out:

“Not all public service pension schemes communicate with members on a regular basis. Currently it is a requirement of defined contribution schemes in the private sector that they provide members with an annual benefit statement: this is not the case for defined benefit schemes”—

which, of course, the majority of public service pension schemes are. Lord Hutton also proposed, in his recommendation 18, precisely what my hon. Friend has advocated in new clause 2:

“All public service pension schemes should issue regular benefit statements to active scheme members, at least annually and without being requested”.

I must say that I thought my hon. Friend let the Economic Secretary off a little lightly when he said that he was not expecting the Government to accept the new clause, but was merely seeking an indication that they would table an amendment of their own in the House of Lords. That would certainly be satisfactory, but it would be desirable if the Government said “We accept the principle and we want the practice, so we will legislate accordingly by adopting the new clause.” It must surely be a matter of common sense and consensus that members being kept informed about their schemes so that they can plan for their retirement must be a good thing; and that good thing can be guaranteed in the Bill. I see no serious case against new clause 2.

I think that Lord Hutton’s proposal for a national board for the local government pension scheme is consistent with the bid for better standards and for better information and better understanding among scheme members. The employers’ side, the Local Government Association,

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the union side, and members of unions such as the GMB all agree that Lord Hutton was right to make that recommendation, but we are still waiting to see it enshrined in the Bill. I hope that the provision for better standards and information for scheme members that we hope the Government will introduce will include provision for a national board.

Andy Sawford: One of my worries about the pension scheme changes relates to the different impacts that they will have on different communities. Sadly, as my right hon. Friend may know, Corby has one of the 10 lowest life expectancy rates in the country. As we review the schemes, and, in particular, as we seek to give people information about the future benefits that they may expect, we should recognise that there are huge regional variations in life expectancy, and that it is important for people and their families to be able to plan for their future.

John Healey: My hon. Friend’s constituency is in Northamptonshire and mine is in south Yorkshire, but we share an industrial heritage and a strong tradition of steel-making, and I entirely understand the point that he has made. It is as relevant to Corby and to east Northamptonshire as it is to Wentworth and Dearne and parts of Rotherham and Barnsley.

New clause 3 is simply intended to ensure that the undertaking given to the House by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and given to the unions that have been negotiating about pension schemes changes on behalf of their members, is guaranteed, and that Ministers will not be able to change their minds and change the schemes in the future. This must be legislation for a 25-year deal, which is what the Government originally promised us.

The question of access to public service pension schemes for public service workers who may face compulsory transfer to non-public service employers and organisations is critical. As has already been pointed out, the Government’s commitment to an extension was a deal-maker for many unions and for many of their members, particularly on the local government side. It would have been a deal-breaker for those unions and members if the guarantee had not been in place, or if what the Economic Secretary said in Committee—which I have quoted—had been on the table instead. We had a clear and principled commitment. That commitment ought to be included in the Bill, and then, as is appropriate in the case of enabling legislation of this sort, the details of the mechanism for how it is to be implemented can be provided in further regulation or scheme rules.

I must say to the Economic Secretary—as some of my hon. Friends have already said—that trust is a problem for the Government in the public services, particularly when it comes to public service pensions. That should come as no surprise to them. After all, they commissioned Hutton to produce the report, and before the publication of the final version, they hit public service workers with a 3% tax surcharge on their pension payments, and with not just a temporary but a permanent switching of the link with pensions from the retail to the consumer prices index. A commitment in the Bill will serve as a confirmation and a reassurance for public service workers that the Government do indeed mean what they say in this regard.

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Let me say something about amendments 19 and 20, and about the Bill’s use of the concept of “closure”. During this debate and in Committee, the terms “closure” and “winding up” have been used almost synonymously, but they are not, of course, synonymous. The winding-up provisions in the Pensions Act 1995 apply principally to occupational pension schemes. Those schemes are different from local government pension schemes, which are funded and have the quasi-constitutional backing of local government.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East pointed out, the Economic Secretary has said that that it is not the intention to close local government pension schemes. If, as the Government seem to be arguing, closure does not mean closure and there is no intention to legislate for closure of any of the funds, this change should be straightforward. It is evidently needed, especially given that the concern of employers, scheme members, trustees, and unions representing many of the members has been consistent and clear. Why risk uncertainty, why risk a legal challenge, why risk financial jeopardy for some funds, by allowing debts to be triggered in the particular circumstances of a funded scheme for local government?

It may not be the Government’s intention at present to reduce people’s benefits that they have already accrued. It may not be their intention to end any flexibility in the link between the normal pension age and the state pension age. It may not be their intention to make further and sweeping radical changes or cuts in people’s pension provision. As it stands, however, the Bill allows all those things to happen. That is why the new clauses and amendments are so important. They will reassure pension scheme members, now and in the future, that this is a settlement for the long term, that the Government mean what they say, and that the Government can, in the longer run, be trusted with public service pensions. Scheme members have seen little evidence since 2010 that that is really the case.

Mike Freer: Members have discussed the technical definition of “closure”, and I ask the Economic Secretary to make it clear in his response that closure does not mean closure, but instead means the scheme is frozen while a new scheme is run alongside and in parallel. Members have talked about the effects of closing a scheme and the crystallisation of outstanding liabilities. In respect of the local government pension scheme, the council tax payer would then be forced to meet those liabilities in one fell swoop. That runs contrary to all the other efforts the Treasury is making to keep council taxes down, so if closure is, indeed, what is intended, there would appear to be a lack of joined-up thinking in the Treasury.

John Healey: I support the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, and I hope the Economic Secretary will, too. For clarity’s sake, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that this does not only affect local councils, as schools that are academies, charities and a number of non-government organisations also use the local government pension scheme?

Mike Freer: The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Having chaired the London borough of Barnet pension fund committee for several years, I know that while the council is by far the largest fund, there are also

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many admitted bodies for which it administers funds, such as Middlesex university, academies and various charities. The crystallisation of debt that may arise if there is any vagueness in the legislation could therefore have massive impacts not only on councils, which could, perhaps, withstand the financial shock by using reserves and spreading the effects over many years, but on smaller admitted bodies, who certainly could not do that.

As we have seen in respect of Equitable Life, once a fund closes and becomes a zombie fund, all the good fund managers flee. No decent fund manager worth their salt wants to manage a zombie fund. Therefore, because of the performance of the zombie fund, the liability grows still further. The implications of crystallisation of liabilities in this context must be taken into account. I urge the Economic Secretary to explain precisely what he means when referring to closing a fund. I believe he means that one fund would remain but would have no new contributions and no new members, and a new fund would run in parallel. I urge him to make that clear.

On the issues addressed in new clause 2, I urge the Government to go further, because best practice in the public sector in respect of providing information is not enough. It is my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary’s birthday tomorrow; I think he will turn 43 years of age. I calculate that by the time he reaches the normal pensionable age of the parliamentary scheme he will have contributed some 24 years of accrued service, presuming that he is in a one fortieth, one fiftieth or one sixtieth scheme with the various contribution rates that attach to them. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary is a man of finance and has a head for figures, so I have no doubt that he understands the pension choices he has made, but I spend a surprisingly large amount of my time explaining to teachers and others—on Saturday I spoke to a police officer—exactly how their pension works, because they do not know and do not understand.

Further requirements in terms of transparency and quantity of information are needed, therefore, because people need to make rational decisions. If we want to defuse the pension time bomb, people have to make a rational decision based on information, not supposition. A constituent of mine who is a doctor has been trying for six months to get information from the NHS about his pension contributions and likely benefits. That is simply not good enough. The Government must go further in this regard.

2.45 pm

Mr MacNeil: In respect of this Bill and the commitment to public sector pensions, what change in GDP are we likely to see?

Mike Freer: I am not qualified to judge that. I am not an economist, so I do not have information about the impact on GDP. It might be appropriate to ask the Economic Secretary that question, however.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I am not an economist either, but the issue is not the predicted rise in GDP; rather, it is the predicted fall in the working population who will be available to pay the pensions of a growing number of older people.

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Mike Freer: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The pensions time bomb is not only to do with the fact that people are making insufficient provision; it is also about there being insufficient taxpayers to make up the gap between the contributions made by employer and employee and that gap having to be made up from general taxation. There are two parts of the time bomb, therefore. Unless accurate information is provided on pensions, people will not be able to make the appropriate decisions.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Mike Freer: As long as the intervention is not a question about GDP.

Mr MacNeil: In terms of the provisions in the Bill, the House of Commons Library informs us that this time bomb will be cut from 1.6% of GDP to 1.5% of GDP.

Mike Freer: I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. After our debate, I may have to check whether I have said something that I cannot remember saying, and I apologise that I cannot respond to that point at present.

The House spends a huge amount of time regulating. The Food Labelling (Nutrition Information) (England) Regulations 2009 spell out in considerable detail the information that must be on food labels. The labels specify for consumers the fibre content, edible carbohydrate polymers, synthetic carbohydrates, salt content, kilojoules and calories, sugar content, fatty acids of trans fatty acids, yet when we ask people to make choices about their pensions, which is one of the biggest decisions of their life, we give them no information at all. I urge the Economic Secretary to go further by ensuring accurate information is included in our pension statements.

Sheila Gilmore: At least with regard to new clause 2 and the need for good communication and good information, it appears that there is a fair degree of cross-House agreement. Members may have different motives for wanting such information to be given, and may hold different views about what behavioural change that might drive. Some Members might also hint that they want this information to be given so that public sector workers are properly and humbly grateful for retaining better pensions than the absolutely dreadful pensions of many in the private sector. I hope the Economic Secretary will respond positively, however, and agree that this is an important step. It will be deeply ironic if better and more thorough information is given to people with private sector pensions than to those with public sector pensions.

We all want to avoid too much information being given, of course, with people receiving many pages of information, much of it hard to understand. We do not want to over-egg that pudding. There is a parallel debate happening in the world of private sector pensions on giving good, accurate but still efficient information, so that people can look at a single page of information—that is preferable—and understand what their likely pensions are going to be. On that matter I hope that the Minister, having heard the debate in Committee and again today,

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will be happy to make some changes to the provisions. I cannot see why new clause 2 should not be in the Bill, as it deals with such a major issue.

I wish briefly to discuss new clause 3, which deals with the issue of a fair deal. Again, there would appear to be a substantial degree of agreement across the House on the substance of the issue. Nobody is saying, “We don’t think these should be the provisions.” The question that has been raised is whether they should be in the Bill. Some Government Members have suggested that accepting what the clearly stated view of Ministers has been at various points should be good enough, because it is on the record and we should be confident that that is sufficient. However, as far as I am aware, it is not possible to litigate on the basis of what people simply said, rather than what is in legislation. People have attempted to say in the past, “But that was the intention”, even doing so in respect of debates in this House. However, legal disputes about rights or obligations turn on the much narrower construction of what is written in the Bill.

I am not suggesting, in any way, that those who have spoken during our consideration of the Bill do not intend what they have said, but many public sector workers are genuinely concerned. As I said in my earlier intervention, the matter becomes a great deal more important if the Government continue, as they presumably will, over the next two years to do what they say they want to do: outsource more of what we would regard, or have traditionally regarded, as public sector activities. That has already happened to some extent. Some people have explained how this could be very positive, with employee mutuals and all kinds of social enterprises springing up to provide public services. If the Government are genuinely serious about wanting current public sector employees not just to have to do this, but to be enthusiastic about doing it, these safeguards have to be in place. If this is the road that is to be pursued, it is even more important to have these provisions than it may have been in the past. Saying, “You didn’t do it before so we don’t need to do it now” is not a particularly good argument; some of us might disagree about what had been done previously. Even if we do not, the argument is still not particularly good, as we have also to learn from experience. I hope that the Government will seriously consider legislation on this matter, because if they genuinely have no intention of departing from the promised arrangement I cannot see what the problem is. When people begin to say there is a problem, that is when those paying into these schemes—the employees likely to be affected—begin to smell a rat. There may be no rat there, but why not make things absolutely clear?

That is also true of what we are trying to achieve in amendment 12, which deals with an apparent possibility arising from clause 7. Again we were given assurances in Committee that we should not be reading into this something that the Government do not intend. Clause 7 says:

“Scheme regulations may establish a scheme…as

(a) a defined benefits scheme”.

It then goes on to talk about

“a scheme of any other description”.

It is not at all clear what is actually meant. We were told that one or two specialist defined contribution schemes

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are in existence, but people are clear that the promise that was made as part of this negotiation is that the defined benefits schemes would remain in place. They will, however, be changed, and during the negotiation employees in various parts of the public sector accepted substantial changes in the kind of pension because they accepted the imperatives. In moving from final salary pension schemes to career average schemes, changes are being made in accrual rates. All sorts of changes have been made—for example, the forthcoming changes to pension age—but they were made on the basis that the scheme will remain as a defined benefit scheme.

John Healey: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case and sounding a clear warning. She mentions that clause 7(1) refers to

“a defined contributions scheme, or

( c) a scheme of any other description.”

Would she like to point out to the House that this potential change in clause 7 could in theory, under subsection (5), be brought in by way of a negative resolution—by a statutory instrument that would not allow a debate in this Chamber or even a 90-minute debate in a Committee upstairs?

Sheila Gilmore: I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, because that is an important point. If the rest of the clause did not give rise to the possibility of substantial changes, that provision might be acceptable. However, where we are talking about much greater changes, it is particularly important that the full debate takes place.

Again, there appears to be a difference between giving an assurance and a reluctance to see that assurance embedded in the Bill. Various people have mentioned that the whole debate we have had, particularly since 2010, has eroded some of the public sector workers’ trust. I do not generally seek to be overly alarmist in these matters, but even in Committee—I am pleased to say that this has not happened today—there were points when we could see exactly why many public sector workers are apprehensive, There were those, admittedly not at ministerial level but on the Government Back Benches, who clearly still feel that public sector pensions are too generous. The underlying thinking is that at some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, further attempts will be made in that regard.

I fully accept that even with the changes that come through this Bill and through other negotiations that have taken place, public sector pensions remain far better than private sector pensions. However, we always have to remember that the comparator we now have is absolutely dreadful private sector pensions, regardless of where we place the blame and how that has happened. One thing that politicians should be doing in the next few months and years is trying to improve private sector pensions.

Finally, I wish to discuss amendment 11, which relates to the local government scheme in Scotland. Generally, the arrangements for many public sector schemes in Scotland have been that Scottish Ministers could make regulations, but that they were subject to Treasury approval. For the most part, whether because of that need for Treasury approval or because until relatively recently there has been no reason to depart from the UK-wide arrangements as doing so might create various

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anomalies that would not always be helpful, the regulations for schemes—all those that are not funded, at least—have lain with Scottish Ministers but have been made in the same way.

3 pm

The exception is the local government pension scheme and the difference is that that is a funded scheme. It has been regulated in a way that has not normally had Treasury approval. The purpose of our amendment is to exclude the Scottish local government pension scheme from the Bill, which would enable matters relating to that scheme to be dealt with by Scottish Ministers. The amendment would perhaps add clarity to the devolution of power, but, more importantly, it would embed the practice as regards that scheme and safeguard it. Otherwise, the Bill would mean that the Treasury would be involved in setting aspects of the Scottish local government scheme and, for the first time, local government workers in Scotland might find that changes can be made to their pensions by the UK Government.

John Healey: My hon. Friend is making another powerful point about amendment 11. She is right that the Scottish Government are not normally backward in coming forward to demand new powers and for decisions to be taken in Scotland for Scotland. Would she care to speculate about why they have not chosen to apply for a legislative consent motion that would allow them to make these decisions in Scotland? Could it be that they are looking to allow the broad shoulders of the Economic Secretary to take the blame and responsibility for the changes to the local government pension scheme in Scotland?

Sheila Gilmore: I was going to come to that point, because I am surprised that that opportunity has not been taken, given the context. As my right hon. Friend will know, this is a difficult and sensitive subject, but—this point might well be speculative and I am sure that people will wish to deny that it is the case—it is no secret that we are in a particular stage of politics in Scotland, and it would—

Dr Whiteford: I think I might be rescuing the hon. Lady from the point she was trying to make. Earlier, she stressed the importance of considering what is actually in the legislation rather than the world as we would like it to be. Does she welcome the fact that John Swinney has not exercised his flexibility to increase contributions to the local government pension scheme?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) will comment on that point only if it is relevant to the amendments we are considering. I remind hon. Members that we are not yet on Third Reading. The debate is going rather wide of the new clauses and amendments, so perhaps the hon. Lady could return to them.

Sheila Gilmore: I am more than happy to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps we will have further debate on that topic.

If amendment 11 were agreed to, considerable and greater power would be available for the Scottish Parliament than the current Scottish Government appear to want.

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Within the context of the politics at present, I do not think it would be idle speculation to suggest that that might be convenient.

Cathy Jamieson: With reference to the amendment mentioned by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) earlier, notwithstanding the comments I made at that stage, does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather strange that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth in the Scottish Government is complaining that there are only some 28 months to conclude negotiations on pensions when a great deal of the Scottish Government’s effort appears to be going on other things at the moment? Perhaps some of that resource could be used to resolve these issues.

Sheila Gilmore: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, but I suspect that it might also be outwith the terms of the new clause, so I shall refrain from commenting.

Finally, there is a risk that we are missing something in Scotland and are not getting—or even trying to get—the powers we could have. That decision might be for purely party political reasons, so that people can lay blame, saying, “There is nothing we can do; we cannot make life better for you because we do not have the power to do so. It is all because of that nasty Government down in London and your only way out of this is to make that amazing leap so that with one bound we are free. Then, everything will suddenly be wonderful,” in the hope that that will persuade the people of Scotland that they should vote for separation. I am confident that the level-headedness of the Scottish people will mean that they will not be taken in by such proceedings.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) for her speech. For the short time for which I have been a Minister so far, in every debate and in every Bill Committee in which I have been involved, no matter what the subject, she has spoken. I can always rely on her to quiz me and keep me on my toes, so I thank her for that.

Let me also thank all other hon. Members who have contributed to the discussions we have just had: the shadow Financial Secretary, the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) and for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). I shall try to deal with all the points that were raised.

I am glad that we are starting with new clause 2 and that we have started our debate discussing annual benefit statements. It is right that scheme members should be kept informed of their pension rights and provided with an annual update. I fully understand the case for doing more in that area and find myself in agreement with the arguments that Members on both sides of the House raised today and in Committee.

I agree that information should be provided for some members, without request, in one format or another. However, I cannot support the precise wording of the new clause. For example, it does not distinguish between

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active, pensioner and deferred members but we would need to take that distinction into account. I would also wish to ensure that any change was future-proof—for example, we should not inadvertently mandate paper statements when it might be easier and cheaper for schemes to implement online and perhaps mobile technologies in the future.

Although I respect and understand the spirit in which the new clause was tabled, and although I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have said, I would not propose to use its exact wording. I am now persuaded that there is a case for going the extra mile to ensure regular updates are provided for scheme members. That is why we will consider the matter further and propose an amendment in the other place to deal with annual benefit statements.

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): I welcome the Minister’s statement. I had quite a lot of sympathy with the Opposition’s case, simply because many of the representations made to me as a constituency MP while the negotiations were taking place contained a mixture of misinformation that came, perhaps, from the trade unions or from a basic misunderstanding of the scheme. The Government and all the scheme employers definitely have a role to play in clarifying the terms and conditions of the scheme so that we do not have these misunderstandings again.

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend makes a good point and I hope that he is also reassured by the commitment I have just given.

I also want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Finchley and Golders Green and for Bedford (Richard Fuller) for their input on this issue in Committee.

John Healey: I welcome that commitment. The Minister said that the information should be provided “to some scheme members”. May I urge him to take a maximalist approach and make sure that the maximum reasonable number of members get the most regular and at least annual information that will allow them to understand the scheme better and to plan for retirement and manage it better as well?

Sajid Javid: I agree. All scheme members, one way or the other, should receive annual information. That is the type of amendment we will table in the other place. However, there are different types of members of schemes, such as deferred members and active members. That needs to be taken into account when they receive that information.

Jim Shannon: I seek clarification and perhaps also reassurance in relation to those who are members of small public bodies. They have been informed that their pensions will transfer to larger schemes where they feel that they will lose out more than anyone else. What assurance can the Minister give the House and people in small public bodies that their pension rights will be guaranteed or assured?

Sajid Javid: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. We will come to a related issue later, which may be a better point at which to discuss that.

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We had a robust discussion of new clause 3. The Government have set out their commitment to retaining the fair deal, but reforming it. Staff who are transferred from the public sector to an independent provider will be provided with continued access to the public sector pension scheme. This commitment has been made on numerous occasions by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton rightly mentioned in his contribution. It was announced on 20 December 2011 and confirmed in the Chief Secretary’s announcement on 4 July this year. We also reaffirmed this in our response to the fair deal consultation which was published on 19 November this year.

The Opposition say that the Government have not made a commitment to the fair deal in the Bill. That is not entirely correct. Both clauses 22 and 26 allow for the new fair deal policy to be implemented. The Bill has been deliberately crafted so that the new fair deal can be delivered under these provisions. Let me be clear. The current fair deal, which Members are rightly keen to retain, has never been statutory. The new fair deal does not need to be statutory to bind non-public sector providers to the policy. The contracts that independent contractors enter into when tendering will ensure that the fair deal is applied.

The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne referred to my comments in Committee, and it is important to be clear. We are consulting on how the fair deal should apply to those employees who have already been transferred out under the existing fair deal, but we are not consulting on the commitment that we have already made, which is that public sector workers who are transferred out under the new fair deal will retain a right to public sector pensions. We are also consulting on what to do when an existing contract that has already been tendered out is retendered under the new fair deal. There is work to be done to determine how and when the new policy will be implemented. We want to be sure that the contracts put in place will safeguard the legal rights of employees and employers. As the Government, rather than the independent providers of the services, will be retaining the risk of providing these pensions, we need to get this right.

The amendment would also bind the local government pension scheme. However, the fair deal does not apply to staff transferred out of local government. It would not be appropriate to accept the amendment as the implications for local government and the LGPS need to be fully explored. This is work that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), is already doing. For all these reasons, we believe the amendment is unnecessary and would pre-empt the ongoing work on the local government scheme.

On amendment 11, we will no doubt look at Scotland in more detail later in the debate, but let me try to set hon. Members’ minds at rest on the issues raised in the amendment. Legislative competence for the local government pension scheme in Scotland sits with this Parliament. The approval of the Scottish Parliament is therefore not needed under the Sewel convention or the Scotland Act 1998 for primary legislation on Scottish local government pensions. This is a position accepted by the Scottish Government and emphasised by the

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Scottish Finance Minister on 28 November. He told the Scottish Parliament that the Bill does not contain any provisions

“over pensions for local government, the national health service, teachers or police and fire staff—that would trigger the Sewel convention.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 28 November 2012; c. 14014.]

3.15 pm

I am aware of how pressing the question of devolution is for some of our colleagues in Scotland, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) would agree that the Bill is not an appropriate place to rework the devolution settlement put in place by the 1998 Act or the long-standing Sewel convention by making this House’s ability to legislate for local government pensions in Scotland subject to the Scottish Parliament’s consent.

Cathy Jamieson: The reason why we tabled the amendment is important. Notwithstanding the Minister’s comments on what the Cabinet Secretary for Finance said, concern has been expressed by the trade unions that the ability to make some of the regulations relating to the local government pension scheme in Scotland might change the relationship that had previously existed. We want to ensure that the existing practice is in the Bill and that there would be no change. That is what the amendment seeks to do.

Sajid Javid: I respect the hon. Lady’s intentions, but for the reasons that I set out, I do not believe the amendment is necessary. The situation as it stands is quite clear.

Cathy Jamieson: I thank the Minister for giving way once again. In all the correspondence that has gone back and forth between the Scottish Government and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, did the Scottish Government at any stage ask for any amendments to be made to the Bill, either to clarify it or to give them further flexibility?

Sajid Javid: I have not seen all that correspondence, but to my knowledge the Scottish Government have not asked for any such amendments.

On amendment 12, I welcome the opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the defined benefit structure of the new schemes. I would hate to think that the hon. Member for Nottingham East is unaware of the 85,000 or so public service workers who are already members of the current career average schemes. His amendment, which he says is designed to reassure public service workers about the nature of their pensions, refers only to final salary schemes. I can reassure all public sector workers, including those currently in career average schemes, that the Government are fully committed to implementing the defined benefit schemes that have been negotiated. I assure the House, just as I assured the Committee, that the Government have no intention of replacing these defined benefit schemes with different types of scheme designs.

There is no secret plot here. We have spent a long time in discussions with trade unions and member representatives to get where we are today. It would be foolhardy to throw away 18 months of work and do something

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entirely different. We do not intend to move away from defined benefit schemes in public services. Defined contribution schemes would not be the right kind of pension provision for many public servants.

John McDonnell: Will the Minister therefore meet with the War Graves Commission, because that looks as if it is planning to move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme?

Sajid Javid: If the commission would like to have a meeting with me, I would be happy to do so.

However, we must not vilify defined contribution schemes either. There might be a small group of individuals who consider that their needs are better served by defined contribution schemes—for example, those spending a short time in public service roles who would prefer to use their employer contributions to maintain their existing defined contribution schemes. Approximately 7,000 people are already in that type of scheme by choice. There is nothing wrong with giving people such a choice. The Government believe that clause 7 already provides the right powers to allow the new defined benefit schemes to be set up while allowing alternatives types of scheme for those who want them.

I turn to amendments 19 to 28 to clause 16. I understand the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham East and others in Committee and this afternoon. We have provided reassurances on some of those concerns in correspondence. I hope that all hon. Members are now assured that the effect of the clause will not be to crystallise liabilities or to wind up any of the funded schemes. The amendments highlight those issues over which there are lingering doubts. As the hon. Gentleman set out, those relate to the extent and effect of the closure of the current schemes and the dates on which the changeover will take place.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I would like to thank the Minister for the clarity his letters provided on clause 16, which was helpful, because there was originally some confusion about that in the Bill.

Sajid Javid: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and hope that I can provide further such reassurance on the clause this afternoon.

Amendments 19 to 21 seek to provide that the reforms are made by replacing the existing regulations. The scheme regulations made under the Bill would therefore have to provide for both accrued rights and new service, which we do not believe is sensible. The hon. Member for Nottingham East has expressed concerns that the Bill, as drafted, could create two separate schemes and that that could create extra costs. The Local Government Association has further clarified its outstanding concern that members of existing schemes are treated as deferred members of the existing schemes when the new schemes are introduced. That is not our intention. We will look closely at that, with the Local Government Association and others, to see whether any changes are desirable or needed to put that beyond doubt.

With regard to amendments 22 to 28, the purpose of clause 16 is to prevent benefits from being provided under existing terms in respect of a member’s service after the schemes are reformed. It closes the existing schemes, but only by closing them to future accrual.

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Clauses 4 and 5 already provide for existing and new arrangements for each work force to be managed and administered together. The old and new schemes will be administered by the same scheme manager, who will be assisted by the same pension board. From a member’s perspective, the transition between their old and new pension rights and the administration of their pensions will be seamless.

The dates proposed in amendments 21 and 22 do not fit with the dates agreed for the reform of the schemes: 1 April 2014 for the local government schemes in England and Wales and 1 April 2015 for the other public service pension schemes. I appreciate that the date set out in clause 16(4)(b) might also look a little odd. It allows schemes that want to reform at the start of the public sector’s financial year—1 April—to do so while leaving the option open to make reforms at the start of the tax year instead.

Although I remain convinced that the Bill will deliver what we want, I am aware that others believe that the dates are confusing. It is a concern that I will continue to consider. I regret to say that we cannot accept these amendments, because I am afraid that they would not work. However, they are clearly well intentioned and we can see what they are trying to achieve. As I said in Committee, we will continue to work through the outstanding concerns. I will reflect further on the amendments and we might return to the matter in the other place.

I turn now to amendment 4, tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and others. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the amendment; its purpose is clear but the practical effects would be fraught with problems. First, in England and Wales the appointed person will be reviewing the valuation and employer contribution rates of 89 separate pension funds. The appointed person will not know who the employee representatives are for each of those funds. The clause already requires the appointed person’s report to be published. That is the appropriate course of action. We envisage that the appointed person will publish a single report covering each and every one of the local authority funds. The Bill rightly requires that a copy is sent to the relevant authority and to the scheme managers, because those persons might need to take action as a result of the report.

If the appointed person identifies a problem in a pension fund, under the Bill the scheme manager would be required to take remedial action. The Bill also allows the relevant authority to intervene if necessary. However, members and their representatives will not need to take any action. The management of local authority pension funds needs to be more transparent, and the clause achieves that. The information will be published and members, local authority residents, Parliament and others will be able to see and consider it. The amendment would add no value, but it would create unnecessary costs and burdens.

I will now speak to amendments 7 and 8. I have already reassured the House that the Government have no intention of replacing the current defined benefit schemes with different scheme designs. Clause 7 allows the necessary flexibility for future Parliaments and pension scheme members to decide on the most appropriate

4 Dec 2012 : Column 772

pension scheme design for future generations of public service workers in the largest schemes. Clause 28 allows the same flexibility for the smaller public body schemes made under clause 28(7) or other powers. The Government expect that in most cases employees of the bodies listed in schedule 10 will join the reformed civil service pension scheme and have the same choice that civil servants have now: whether to join a defined benefit or a defined contribution scheme. The amendments would deny the employees of the other public bodies listed in schedule 10 that choice.

John McDonnell: The Minister, as ever, is being generous with his time. On amendments 7 and 8, his response will have a chilling effect for trade unions representing members across the piece, because the Government are not adhering to the direction of travel indicated in their assurances on the 25-year guarantee—that we were moving to defined benefit, not defined contribution schemes. Will the Government at least monitor the process and report back to the House, because I do not think that it is their will—it is certainly not the will they have displayed up to now—that there should be a flourishing of defined contribution schemes which would undermine defined benefit schemes?

Sajid Javid: I hope that I have made the Government’s commitment to defined benefit schemes very clear; I do not think I can make it any clearer than I have already from the Dispatch Box today. That commitment clearly has not changed.

Finally, on amendment 32, I am confident that the Scottish Government can achieve the 2015 timetable. Even more importantly, I have no reason to believe that the Scottish Government share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford). The Scottish Government’s Finance Minister, Mr John Swinney, has not requested that the Bill be amended to allow for a delay for implementation in Scotland. Indeed, such a delay would disadvantage lower and middle-income public service workers, who often benefit from a move to career average schemes. Furthermore, a delay in implementing the reforms would result in additional liabilities being built up in those schemes. These additional costs, running to hundreds of millions of pounds, would have to be paid for through the Scottish budget.

Dr Whiteford: Let me reiterate that I have no problem whatsoever with the move to career average schemes. Does the Minister accept, though, that this process has been subject to unnecessary prevarication and lack of clarity? In relation to amendment 11, tabled by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), does he accept that these proposals will roll back the existing provisions of the devolution settlement?

Sajid Javid: No, I do not. The Scottish Government have had plenty of time to look at the proposals, which originated with Lord Hutton’s report. They may feel that they should have acted earlier, but they clearly had control over that.

Cathy Jamieson: I heard the Minister say that the Scottish Government had not made any formal request to change the time scale, but the Finance Secretary referred to that in his speech in the Scottish Parliament when he indicated that he was not bringing forward a

4 Dec 2012 : Column 773

legislative consent motion. If the Scottish Government were to make such a formal approach, would the Minister, even at this late stage, be willing to consider amendments once the Bill moves elsewhere?

3.30 pm

Sajid Javid: If the Scottish Government wanted to suggest any amendments, we would of course have a sensible discussion with them about that.

Over the past year the Chief Secretary has written on a monthly basis to the Scottish Government about the public service pension reforms, and we have asked many times whether they would like to consider amending the Bill. They have not requested any such changes so far, and it would therefore be inappropriate to accept the amendment now.

Dr Whiteford: Does the Minister think that nine days’ notice is sufficient time for the Scottish Government to be able to make those plans before the First Reading of the Bill?

Sajid Javid: As I said, virtually every month the Chief Secretary has written to the Scottish Government, and they have had plenty of opportunity to respond. As I said to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), if, even at this stage, the Scottish Government wanted to suggest amendments, those amendments would be given serious thought in the other place.

I commend Government amendments 35 to 39 to the House.

Chris Leslie: I will start with the good news that the Minister is willing to concede the principle, if not the words, of new clause 2 on member communications. That is an important change of heart. We wanted annual benefit statements to be sent out proactively to members of defined benefit public service pension schemes, as they are for defined contribution schemes. We encountered a bit of resistance in Committee, but the Minister has thought again, particularly in the light of the views of the hon. Members for Bedford and for Finchley and Golders Green, and of many of my hon. Friends who made the same argument. I welcome the fact that the Minister has been persuaded of the spirit of the amendment. We do not get many victories for common sense in legislation, but this is one of them, and I pay tribute to him. It is a mark of distinction for him that we have managed to have him think afresh about the argument, reflect on it, and bring matters forward in the House of Lords. When our constituents receive these annual letters in the post, they can thank him for that extra information, as well as the hon. Members who have argued for it. [Interruption.] The letters may of course arrive online as well.

The Minister did not say much about Government amendment 35, but that also feels like a famous victory. It means that existing members of final salary schemes in public bodies will definitely be able to stay in those schemes. We are sometimes grateful for small mercies in these legislative processes.

I turn now to the less good news. I heard what the Minister said about our amendment 12, which would ensure that defined benefit schemes that have ended are

4 Dec 2012 : Column 774

superseded by new defined benefit schemes. It is a moot point, and we have our disagreements about it. I shall not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, although I am sure that the issue will be revisited in the other place.

Amendments 19 to 22 relate to the closure of local government pension schemes and whether that means that they are really being closed or merely amended. We are worried about the potential for unintended adverse consequences in how the legislation is drafted. However, the Minister said that our amendments were well-intentioned, and that is good enough for me at this stage. They were, indeed, well intentioned and that is another issue that we will want to revisit in the other place.

We have debated the question of devolved responsibilities and amendment 11, which would clear up some of the confusion, particularly in relation to applications by the Scottish Government for legislative consent motions. We feel strongly that there needs to be some clarification on the issue, but the Minister was helpful in saying that the Government want to consider it, so I shall not press that question, although it is very important.

The new fair deal is a promise whereby existing members of public sector pension schemes will be allowed to retain their membership even if they are transferred or outsourced to the private sector, but we have still not received a commitment to that beyond Ministers’ verbal promises. The Minister has said that more work needs to be done, that they need to explore further the issues and that they do not want to pre-empt ongoing work, but that does not sound like the decision that we and many on the employee side thought had been made for a clear and unequivocal commitment to the new fair deal. It is integral to the deals that were agreed in the process leading up to this Bill. I cannot see what harm can be done by including the new fair deal in statute. It is a question of trust, so I want to press new clause 3 to a Division. With those words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Fair deal

‘A member of a public service pension scheme is entitled to remain an active member of that scheme following—

(a) the compulsory transfer of his contract of employment to an independent contractor; and

(b) any subsequent compulsory transfer of his contract of employment.’.—(Chris Leslie.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.




Ayes 229, Noes 288.

Division No. 111]


3.36 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flint, rh Caroline

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Blenkinsop


Mr David Hamilton


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Reckless, Mark

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Shapps, rh Grant

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Ward, Mr David

Webb, Steve

Wheeler, Heather

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Lancaster


Jenny Willott

Question accordingly negatived.

4 Dec 2012 : Column 775

4 Dec 2012 : Column 776

4 Dec 2012 : Column 777

4 Dec 2012 : Column 778

Clause 3

Scheme regulations

Chris Leslie: I beg to move amendment 10, page 2, line 16, at end insert—

‘(3A) Scheme regulations shall not make any provision which would have the effect of reducing the amount of any pension, allowance or gratuity, insofar as that amount is directly or indirectly referable to rights which have accrued (whether by virtue of service rendered, contributions paid or any other thing done) before the coming into operation of the scheme, unless the persons specified in subsection (3B) have agreed to the inclusion of that provision.

(3B) The persons referred to in subsection (3A) are the persons or representatives of the persons who appear to the responsible authority to be likely to be affected by the regulations if they were made.’.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 3, page 6, line 27, in clause 10, at end insert—

‘to be agreed with employee representatives’.

4 Dec 2012 : Column 779

Amendment 5, page 11, line 8, in clause 19, at end insert—

‘with a view to reaching agreement’.

Amendment 34, page 11, line 24, in clause 20, leave out from ‘—’ to ‘(b)’ in line 27 and insert—

‘reach an agreement through consultation with the persons specified in subsection (3), and’.

Chris Leslie: Clause 3 is an important part of the Bill, as it makes a series of arrangements for scheme regulations. Hon. Members will now be turning to page 2 in their copies; when they merrily flick through to it, they will discover that subsection (3)(c) states:

“Scheme regulations may…make retrospective provision.”

The theme of retrospectivity gives the Opposition great concern. Essentially, the Bill allows the reduction of accrued pension benefits.

The measure is not qualified in any way: it allows all retrospective provisions, including, essentially, the reduction of the savings that people have put aside, which many regard as sacrosanct—the contributions from their monthly salaries or income into a pensions pot that is supposed to safeguard their financial future in retirement. We now discover that the Bill contains a provision that allows the Government to dip their hand into what are normally regarded as safe amounts of money—the accrued benefits for which people have paid in over their years of service. The Opposition believe that that breaches a central tenet of pension provision. Benefits that have been accrued are deferred earnings and should not be reduced. Retrospectively reducing accrued rights is essentially akin to taking back a portion of an employees’ wage that has already been paid; there is very little difference.

Many hon. Members and many of my constituents find it difficult to resist the grey mist that descends and the heaviness of the eyelids that pensions law tends to bring about, but hon. Members should wake up and realise what is in the legislation. They should recognise that we are talking about the Government’s ability retrospectively to reduce the amounts that ordinary employees have saved for their retirement, which they believe are safe.

Public sector workers and their representatives are extremely concerned about the retrospective powers that the Bill gives to this and any future Government. Understandably, they believe that as long as the Bill contains those powers, the pensions of ordinary working people—public sector employees—are not safe. On 29 October, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was asked about the retrospective provisions in subsection (3) by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). The right hon. Gentleman replied that there was no need to be concerned about the reduction of accrued benefits, because the Bill mirrored the Superannuation Act 1972 in that respect. It is important to read out his exact words:

“The hon. Gentleman will know that the provisions in the clause to which he refers mirror directly those in the Superannuation Act 1972, which this Bill in many cases replaces. It was passed in the year I was born,”—

in the year I was born too, but let me not digress—

4 Dec 2012 : Column 780

“and it has been used by a number of Governments to make adjustments to public service pensions.”—[Official Report, 29 October 2012; Vol. 552, c. 60.]

The Chief Secretary went further than that when he gave one of those famous quotes—a bit like the George Bush “read my lips” quote—in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research on 20 June 2011. He said:

“We will honour, in full, the benefits earned through years of service. No ifs, no buts.”

Well, it turns out that the Bill does not mirror the Superannuation Act 1972 in relation to accrued benefits. The 1972 Act provides that accrued benefits can be reduced only with the consent of scheme members—in other words, only if members of those schemes, employees, agree to such retrospective arrangements—whereas the Bill allows for retrospective reductions without the consent of scheme members.

Given that the Bill does not mirror the Superannuation Act protections in the way the Chief Secretary said it would, we can only assume that it must have been a drafting error by the Minister—perhaps some sort of oversight or typo. We are not sure why the Government did that. We tabled an identical amendment in Committee to ensure that the protections for accrued benefits in the 1972 Act were retained, but, surprisingly, our amendment was rejected. The Economic Secretary said that there was no need to mirror the protections in the 1972 Act, which prompts the question: why on earth did the Chief Secretary to the Treasury say that the Bill contained certain protections when it obviously does not? It may be, as we have said, because the Chief Secretary is from a different political party from the Economic Secretary. We are not quite sure why the Chief Secretary said that it mirrors the Superannuation Act provisions, but this Minister, the Economic Secretary, resisted that arrangement.

As we have said time and again, when employees in the public sector find themselves facing changes, without any consultation, to their contribution rates and radical changes to the valuation arrangements for their pensions, the question of trust comes up again and again. This Minister says, “Oh, don’t worry, we’re not going to use this provision on retrospectivity,” but when employees voice their doubts and say, “Hang on a minute. Why on earth are you putting it in the Bill?” we have to sympathise with them. They will be extremely sceptical of the Government’s motivations.

We tabled the amendment to give the Minister another chance to include the protections that the Government—or at least one Minister—said were already in the Bill. When accrued benefits and retrospective changes were raised in Committee, the Minister did not dispute that the Bill allowed the Government unilaterally to reduce members’ accrued benefits, but he said repeatedly that the Government had promised not to reduce those accrued benefits. He said that that promise—a verbal promise—offered adequate protection to public service workers and that legislative protection was therefore unnecessary. That is an extraordinary argument. Even if this Government intend to keep their promise—that is a big “if”—their words will have no effect on a future Government, particularly a Conservative Administration. Surely the Government appreciate that, among the public, the level of trust in politicians and Ministers is low and that our request that they enshrine this protection in statute is a basic one.

4 Dec 2012 : Column 781

4 pm

The Minister has previously spoken about not wanting to include certain commitments in legislation because to do so would bind future Governments. As I said, that is a specious argument, because future Governments can change laws if they so wish. They would not be bound by previous Government legislation, but they would have to make any changes openly and democratically through Parliament. That is the level of protection that public service workers rightly seek. This goes to the heart of trust and confidence. How can public service workers have any security in their future retirement if the Government at any point can retrospectively reduce the benefits they have already earned?

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): The Bill must, of course, be compatible with the European convention on human rights and the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg Court. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on whether this retrospective provision on accrued property rights is compatible with the convention? Would it be in keeping with our commitments under the convention to take away property rights retrospectively and without compensation?

Chris Leslie: The hon. Lady has hit upon an important point. There are questions about whether it impinges on basic human rights to claw back retrospectively property—assets—that has been legitimately accrued, yet there is a provision here in the Bill to allow that to happen. Of course, Ministers could say, “Well, even though we’ve allowed for the possibility of retrospectivity, we’re not actually legislating for it now, although we might want to leave open the door to do it in the future.” That would be the point when it would impinge on the convention. She makes an incredibly important point. That is the extent of the possible outrage being left open in the Bill. All legislation is supposed to be signed off as being compatible with the ECHR, but that is a moot point and a matter of interpretation. She has focused on a crucial point.

The explanatory notes state that clause 3(3) has been included to facilitate the necessary adjustments to

“pension schemes to accommodate changes in law or where the government does not want to delay the benefit of a particular change but needs time to work out the consequences and appropriate method of making the change.”

Amendment 10 would not necessarily hinder those technical operational issues. Given that it would retain clause 3’s intended purpose, as set out by the Minister, and that the Government have promised not to reduce accrued benefits, there can surely be no legitimate grounds for opposing the amendment.

This is not an Opposition whim. We are cutting and pasting text from the Superannuation Act 1972: for 40 years, those provisions have protected the accrued benefits and rights of ordinary working people, and we are seeking to replicate those protections in the Bill. The amendment would not hinder or adversely affect the Government’s intentions, but would be of enormous benefit and reassurance to millions of public service workers. As the Minister knows, that concern arose extensively in Committee, where we debated the issue at length. I shall be grateful, therefore, if he reflects seriously on the strength of opinion voiced so far from across the spectrum—from employee representatives and others who want those safeguards enshrined in the Bill.

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John McDonnell: Let me follow on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) has just said, which relates to the previous debate. The running theme is trust. Every one of the trade union organisations that signed up to the deal or had it imposed upon them in the pensions dispute has expressed reservations about clause 3. That is why amendment 10 from our Front-Bench team seeks to address that matter.

The logic is fairly straightforward, but let us get it on the record again. The Government promised a 25-year deal—a once-in-a-generation commitment that there would be no further reform of public sector pensions and that this would be guaranteed in legislation. However, clause 3—we had a discussion earlier about Henry VIII clauses—gives the Government extremely wide-ranging discretion, through the use of statutory instruments and all forms of delegated legislation, which, more importantly, includes the discretion to act retrospectively on what are clearly accrued pension rights over a long period. The saving grace, as presented by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was that the same protection would be written into this Bill as is in the Superannuation Act 1972—as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) said—which is that no changes would be made without the consent of the employees’ representatives. Again, that provision, which was promised, is not in the Bill.

What we now have in the Bill is the exercise of discretion, which breaks the commitment of the 25-year guarantee and does not even go as far as past legislative protection. The argument is that in future the Government will need the flexibility to introduce minor changes in legislation, without being impeded from making minor reforms or tidying things up. However, minor reforms or measures to tidy up the legislation—to reflect changed circumstances or change minor details of a scheme or pension arrangements—should be introduced by consent. Unions have never withheld that consent in past discussions about minor changes in pension provision. That has been the nature of the relationship between the Government and employee representatives up until now. This Bill breaks all that and undermines confidence not just in the Government’s commitments to date, but in their good will on this matter for the long term.

My amendments 3, 5 and 34 relate to exactly the same issue of trust. I am trying in some way to establish further transparency and openness in the management of the future pension schemes that will be established. Amendment 3 relates to valuations, which we discussed in the previous batch of amendments. As I have said, valuations are critical to all those involved in a pension scheme, and certainly to employees who have contributed over the years. They will want to ensure that the valuation is done effectively, on professional terms and with their agreement. That is why my amendment 3 would amend subsection (3)(c) of clause 10, which deals with valuations. As set out in subsections (3)(a) to (3)(f), the Treasury directions under which valuations will take place will include

“how and when a valuation is to be carried out”


“the time in relation to which a valuation is to be carried out”

but more importantly,

“the data, methodology and assumptions to be used in a valuation”.

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If we are to have real employee participation in a scheme, which involves the management of their money—their deferred pay—it is critical that they are fully involved in the valuation process and therefore that they are consulted and agree to the data, methodology and assumptions to be used. Otherwise, we will yet again undermine members’ confidence in the process of evaluating their own schemes. I do not understand why that is not in the legislation throughout. I hope that the Minister can assure us either that I have missed the mention of full employee involvement in the Bill or that he is willing to amend it accordingly.

Let me turn to my amendments 5 and 34. Again, I just do not understand the drafting of the Bill. These proposals refer to the consultations that will be undertaken before scheme regulations are made. Again, this might seem like an esoteric point, but the scheme regulations are critical because they will determine the nature of the scheme under which the funds will be managed, contributions will be made and benefits will be paid. It is therefore critical that the regulations should be made following full consultation.

In legislation of this kind, when consultations take place and schemes are drafted that are likely to affect their members, the form of words that is normally used includes

“with a view to reaching agreement”.

That intention is always set out in the legislation. Indeed, those exact words are used in clauses 20 and 22 of this Bill. Clause 20(2) states:

“The responsible authority must…consult the persons specified in subsection (3) with a view to reaching agreement with them”.

My amendment 5 would simply put that form of words into clause 19, so that when consultation took place, it would be done with the intent of reaching agreement. I do not understand why it was deleted from that clause in the first place. This is just another way of seeking to reassure the employees, the members of the pension schemes, that they will be fully involved in the process, and that the aim, in introducing any changes to the scheme, is to reach agreement and secure their consent whenever possible. This is not a contentious matter.

I have also tabled amendment 34. An assurance has been given that there will be no further changes for a generation, or 25 years, that new schemes will come into force and that the vast bulk of them will, we hope, be defined benefit schemes, but the whole process involves the security of the elements of the schemes that the Government have guaranteed not to change. Those arrangements must be secured by agreement in the future. If those protected areas of the schemes, which the Government have until now guaranteed, are to change, there should not just be consultation with the employee representatives; there should be consultation with a view to reaching agreement. That consultation should have to secure that agreement. That would give the employees, the members of the pension scheme, the protection that they need, and the reassurance that nothing would be done to those protected areas of their pension without their agreement. Those areas include contributions and benefits.

The whole ethos of the Bill fails to recognise that pensions are not solely in the ownership of the Government or the employing organisation, and that they are paid for by the employees over the years. Those who have

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paid into the schemes should therefore have a role in managing them. It is interesting that the Bill does not mention the representation of employees on the pension boards that are to be established. We should at least have a proper consultation process, and that process should involve some security that any changes, particularly to those guaranteed areas, should be achieved by agreement.

I do not know of any other walk of life in which people contribute towards the funding of an organisation or a benefit without having a role to play in the management of it, or at least in the direction of policy. The Government are saying in the Bill that those who have paid vast sums into their pensions should have no say, no role and no entitlement to have their views sought or to have agreement reached. I hope that the Government will take on board some of the amendments and send out a message to the trade unions that represent the members of the pension schemes that yes, they do recognise their rights and they do want them to be fully involved. That full involvement would reassure those members of the Government’s good will and willingness to adhere to their commitment to a 25-year guarantee.

4.15 pm

I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). On the interpretation of the law as it stands and on the basis of the legal advice we have been given over some time, my view is that pension contributions develop accrued rights and that they are protected in European law. My view is that when the Government proceed at some time in the future to interfere or tamper with those accrued rights, there will be a legal challenge. I believe that the Government will lose it, and then—four, five or 10 years down the line—legislative changes resulting from the European Court decision would have to be brought back to Parliament. At that point in time, there will be a cost burden on the Exchequer to compensate those people who will have lost out as a result of the proposed Government changes.

I believe that we should seek to avoid that, and the way to do so, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East has said through his amendment, is to ensure that those accrued rights are protected and that the Government do not have a vast array of powers retrospectively to interfere in people’s pensions. We can also protect pensions by ensuring that employees are, through their trade unions, properly represented and consulted—and, yes, their consent sought—on any changes that the Government might want to make in the future.

Sajid Javid: I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) for tabling amendment 10, which gives us the opportunity to discuss member protections again. This is a serious issue, and although we had some long debates in Committee, it definitely bears revisiting. We have a duty to consider how best to protect the interests of scheme members.

The Government have made a clear public commitment to protect the rights that people have built up in their current schemes. We have said clearly and on several occasions that past service in final salary schemes will not be affected by pension reform. The commitment to honour rights in old schemes is built into the Bill. The power in clause 3, to which the amendment pertains,

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could be used only for the purpose of setting up new schemes in scheme regulations or for transitional or consequential purposes.

Secondly, there is the umbrella protection in UK general legislation that restricts state interference with personal possessions such as pension rights, unless such interference is lawful and proportionate. This protection of property rights is also an area of the European convention on human rights. This Bill is compatible with that convention. Of course, Ministers and others making scheme regulations are always bound to act in a way that is compatible with the law. This will prevent scheme regulations from proposing unlawful changes to protected pension rights.

Lady Hermon: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister so early, but would he kindly explain for the benefit of the House the jurisprudence of the Court of Strasbourg that allows him to say with such confidence that this Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights? What is the jurisprudence to support that contention?

Sajid Javid: I am pleased that the hon. Lady is asking for clarity on this important question. When the Government put this Bill together, it was important, as with any measure, to make sure that it was compatible with existing legislation, including the European convention on human rights. I mentioned it here not to raise the issue of compatibility—of that I have no doubt—but to say that the convention provides protection for property rights. It represents another layer of protection that should reassure people that high hurdles would exist if any future Government tried for whatever reason not to honour the commitments made by this Government.

Chris Leslie: I simply do not understand why the Minister refuses to put clearer unambiguous clarifications, protections and safeguards directly into the Bill. What is the purpose of leaving this as some sort of moot issue about whether there is sufficient jurisprudence to prove compatibility with umbrella protections in the European convention of human rights? That is not strong enough. The Minister must understand that people will be very anxious about this issue; why not clarify it and put it on the face of the Bill?

Sajid Javid: If the shadow Minister will allow me to continue my comments on this important issue, I shall, I hope, be able to give him some reassurance, but first I want to explain the reasons for the Government’s approach.

Since the courts could set aside unlawful scheme regulations, responsible authorities have strong reasons to respect pension protection rights.

There is a third reason for our approach. In order to provide the statutory protections that underpin our commitment on accrued rights, the Bill establishes a common set of member consent and consultation requirements. In the case of the new schemes set up under the Bill, any change in scheme regulations will require a prior, statutory consultation with all who are likely to be affected, or with their representatives.

Clause 20 provides that if any changes are made that could have “significant adverse effects” on members, consultation must be conducted with a view to the reaching of an agreement, and preceded by a report to

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Parliament or the relevant legislature. Any such changes will require explicit approval by that legislature under the affirmative procedure. They cannot simply be nodded through under the nose of Parliament. Taken together, the rule of law and the specific provisions in the Bill should give members the strong reassurance that there is already a very high hurdle against unlawful interference with pension benefits that have been built up.

As I have said, this is an important issue, and we must get it right. We are adamant that the application of universal consent locks is not an avenue that we intend to investigate. As a matter of principle, we do not believe that members, employers or anyone else should be given a ticket unreasonably to hold each other, or the Government, to ransom and to inhibit changes that are for the greater good. The Government feel strongly that it is right to prevent that scenario from occurring in the future, and that is why we cannot support the amendment.

Most retrospective changes in accrued rights are either minor and technical, or in the interests of the vast majority of scheme members. As I have said, however, it is vital that we strike the appropriate balance between member protections and the efficient operation of public service schemes. Although I firmly believe that the provisions in the Bill achieve that balance, I can tell the House that the Government do not have a closed mind on this serious issue, which has been raised thoughtfully by Members on both sides of the House, both today and in Committee. I can only reiterate that we are listening and do not have a closed mind. I am sure that the issue will be discussed in the other place, and we shall listen carefully then as well. I hope that, in the light of the reassurances that I have tried to give, the shadow Minister will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Amendment 3 would place a statutory requirement on the Government to seek the agreement of employee representatives when the data, methodology and assumptions to be used in pension scheme valuations is set. I agree that we must get those elements of the valuations right. We must be sure that a valuation accurately calculates the scheme’s costs. I understand that Members want to be certain that the Government will honour their commitment to ensure that stakeholders are involved in the process, and I can tell the House that they will be so involved.

I believe that the amendment is both unnecessary and unworkable. It is unnecessary because we have already made it clear that the Government will engage with stakeholders over the directions on valuations. Transparency and consultation are extremely important principles, and it is important for everyone to have a say in how the valuation process works, but that does not mean that we will allow the whole process to be stymied by a very small group of people. That would hardly be democratic, let alone a rational way in which to proceed, and it would mean that the employer contributions would not be set at the correct rate. I am sure that that was not the intention of Members when they tabled these amendments, but we think it right for discussions about the valuation process to take place within the normal scheme governance procedures. I am also sure that in the normal course of events the vast majority of the discussions will prove to be sensible and constructive, resulting in broad consensus between all parties. I hope Opposition Members recognise that if the worst happens and the talks break down

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without a full meeting of minds, it is important that, where necessary, the Government can make the final decisions.

On amendment 5, I understand why Opposition Members want to ensure there is meaningful consultation with scheme members before scheme regulations are made, and clause 19 requires precisely that. All scheme consultations on regulations will be conducted in line with the Government’s consultation principles, as set out by the Cabinet Office. As they make clear, the Government are committed to consulting on our proposals and to ensuring consultations are carried out proportionately. Clause 19 as currently drafted provides for a good and comprehensive consultation standard. It also recognises the genuine interests of the members and employers in how their scheme is run.

The clause ensures that whenever a change is proposed to the scheme regulations, the responsible authority must consult everyone whom the authority considers to be affected. Since this will be a statutory consultation, the authority must set out clearly on each occasion the matters on which it is consulting. It must provide enough information and time to allow for considered responses. The authority also needs to keep an open mind until the consultation has closed, and must give fair and proper consideration to those responses before making its final decision. It is worth setting all of that out in detail in order to reassure those who might feel clause 19 does not provide for meaningful consultation; on the contrary, it does precisely that.

Moreover, there are many reasons why the Government may wish to consult scheme members and other stakeholders when making scheme regulations. In many cases the Government will consult with a view to reaching an agreement for proposed changes. Clause 19 as drafted does not prevent that. As the Government have made clear, the enhanced consultation standard should apply to some elements of the scheme, and they are specified in clause 20. It is not necessary to extend this provision to cover every other possible element of scheme design.

John McDonnell: I am not trying to be obstreperous, but in a former life I drafted this stuff, so I would be grateful if the Economic Secretary clarified why the phrase

“with a view to reaching agreement”

is in clause 20 but not in clause 19, because I consider the scheme regulations and the aspects addressed in clause 20 to be of equal importance?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman has approached this issue in a very thoughtful way. We consider that the high hurdle of

“with a view to reaching agreement”

should not apply to every scheme change that might need to be made. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has a different view about when it should apply, but I think I have made the Government’s case clear.

Lady Hermon: The Economic Secretary has elaborated at great length on clause 19. My concern, however, is that clause 20 refers to consultation

“with a view to reaching agreement”,

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rather than until consultation is reached. If agreement is not reached, what will happen? Will the changes be imposed on workers, in which case consultation will merely be an exercise and a formality?

Sajid Javid: The requirement of

“with a view to reaching agreement”

is a high hurdle. I cannot remember the phrase the hon. Lady used, but I can say that the requirement is not a tokenism of any kind—it is a genuine commitment. It is in clause 20, so where this is required it is a clear commitment that the Government will have to honour. The second part of her question was about what would happen if an agreement was not reached. I hope that such situations would be rare, but it is clear that if an agreement could not be reached the Government would have to make the final decision, as is absolutely right.