Pension Schemes Bill [ Lords ] (First sitting)

Published date : 03 November, 2020
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.

I will confine my brief remarks to amendments 6 and 25. I listened carefully and with interest to what the Minister said about the rationale for trying to withdraw clause 27 from the Bill. I agree that with him that in trying to come up with a legal definition of fairness, it will always be nebulous. There are clear difficulties around that, which is why I do not think the initial intention behind the clause was to provide absolute legal clarity.

I was reassured to a large extent by what the Minister said about the steps that would be taken to set up CDC schemes—by definition, schemes that are obviously unfair will not pass approval. The difficulty I have with that argument is that all that is being asked in clause 27 is that there is a requirement for trustees to make an assessment and nothing further. It is useful to have a process of self-challenge and continuous improvement, looking at aspects of the schemes that are directly under their control and that they can directly influence and alter. It is good to always have that consideration of whether the scheme is operating as fairly as possible for all present and future members and those taking benefits from it. My question to the Minister is, very simply, where is the harm? Even after taking on board all that he says, I still do not see the harm that lies in the Bill as it stands.

Moving on to amendment 25, I hear exactly what the Minister says about the requirement that already exists on trustees to be fit and proper people. My observation is that there are many potentially very fit and proper people who do not currently find themselves on boards, advisory committees or any of the governance structures around pensions, and who could nevertheless make a very good contribution to the running of those schemes.

Speaking from personal experience, prior to being elected as the Member for Gordon, I was a councillor in Aberdeenshire. Through that role, I was one of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities nominees to the Scottish local government pension scheme advisory board, whose representation was equally split between employers’ representatives, of which I was one, and trade union representatives. The trade union representatives were all extraordinarily capable and represented quite accurately the diversity of the scheme members whose interests they were there to represent. In all honesty, the employers’ representatives perhaps did not represent that quite so well. I played my own part in skewing that representation.

The requirement to report back on the membership characteristics is a very useful tool in trying to understand whether all that is reasonable is being done to ensure that trustees and those in positions of governance on pension schemes are as representative as possible not just of the membership, but of the interests of the membership, and that we are giving as many people as possible the opportunity to fully skill up, participate and play the role that they can do. As things stand, we are missing out on the talents of many fit and proper people. Again, I do not see the difficulty in simply recording and reporting that information as part of the cycle of continuous improvement and self-reflection on whether we are achieving all that we seek to do.

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