Standing Committee A
Thursday 14 February 2002
[Mr. George Stevenson in the Chair]
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): I beg to move,
That, during proceedings on the Pension Annuities (Amendment) Bill, the Committee do meet on Thursdays when the House is sitting at five minutes to Nine o'clock and half-past Two o'clock.
It is traditional that you allow some latitude at this stage in our proceedings, Mr. Stevenson, so may I first note that today is St. Valentine's day and that private Member's Bills are a chore over and above the usual duties of Ministers? The Bill is the second private Member's Bill with which the Economic Secretary has had to deal in two days. I do not wish that to be overlooked. Perhaps the hon. Lady has been earmarked for a task that she would prefer not to do. So, from a Yorkshire Member of Parliament to a Lancashire Member of Parliament, my finest attempt at gallantry would be to offer her a red rose.
The Chairman: Order. All contributions in Committee must come through the Chair.
Mr. Curry: Indeed, Mr. Stevenson. I am looking forward to discussing the Bill with the Minister. Given the number of amendments that have been tabled by the Government, her purpose in Committee may be to disembowel rather than to clarify, but all of us know the name of the game. I shall take her indignant repudiation of such an outrageous suggestion at the value that comes with my long experience of having been a Minister and having been occasionally in the same situation.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Stevenson. I think that this is the first time that I have debated a Bill under your chairmanship and I look forward to receiving the benefit of your wisdom and experience. I also thankthrough the Chair, of coursethe right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) for the rose. It is the third that I have received todaythe other two were from my children.
If our debates are not concluded today, I look forward to further sittings. I tried extremely hard to explain all my arguments against the Bill on Second Reading, but was rudely interrupted in mid flow. I was about to refer to its financial implications when, unfortunately, we were faced with the closure motion and the House did not have the chance thoroughly to debate such matters.
Question put and agreed to.
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Amendment of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988
Ruth Kelly: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 5, leave out 'sums for investment in' and insert 'withdrawals from'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 15, in page 2, line 23, at end insert
'( ) Where a member elects to defer the purchase of an annuity such as is mentioned in section 634 he may, for such period as defers the purchase, designate part of the personal pension fund as a Retirement Income Fund under this section.'.
No. 16, in page 2, leave out lines 26 and 27.
Ruth Kelly: As I was saying, we had the opportunity to debate some of the issues at length on Second Reading. However, we did not manage to finish considering the principle, never mind the details, of the Bill. The amendments are highly technical. They refer to the clause and deal with the definition and treatment of the retirement income fund, which the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon proposed.
The Bill would ensure that pension scheme members used pension scheme funds for annuity purchase only to the extent necessary to secure a minimum retirement income. The annuity must be index linked and, apart from transitional measures for those in draw-down, must be bought by age 55. The Bill would allow people to withdraw residual funds from a personal pension scheme and the retirement income fund as and when they like, so long as the minimum retirement income is purchased. The amendments will ensure that the retirement income fund is a designated part of the personal pension scheme.
On amendment No. 6, clause 1(2)(a) is technically incorrect, as it treats income invested in a retirement income fund as a benefit to be paid out from the pension scheme. However, the Bill contains no proposal to amend section 633 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988, which defines the scope of benefits that a personal pension scheme can provide, to include payments into the fund. Even if it did, the provision would not make sense. The only way that it can work is if the benefit that the scheme can provide is amended to include withdrawals from the retirement income fund. The amendment would achieve the results intended by the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are designed to make the provisions of the Bill workable. As it stands, the retirement income fund appears to stand apart from the personal pension fund, but there is no mechanism that would enable it to do so. The amendments make it clear that any part of the fund that is not used for annuity purchase may be designated a retirement income fund. They also make it clear that the retirement income fund will last only as long as the period permitted by the income withdrawal rule, that is, until age 75. That period would be reinstated by amendment No. 14, which we shall discuss in due course.
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It is important that the amendments are accepted to make the Bill workable. We will later discuss whether the retirement income fund is a good idea, whether it is workable, and what effect it will have on most people who draw a pension in their retirement.
Mr. Curry: The Minister referred to Second Reading. We should ensure that we do not re-write history. The Minister chose to stand up at 1.45 pm on Second Reading, having been present since 9.30 am. For a long time prior to that, no Labour Member had spoken, but two then spoke for more than an hour and a half. I am sure that their speeches were solid, substantial and interesting, but they were also extremely long. At 2.10 pm there was a danger that we might have an ''I spy Strangers'' motion, which would have closed down the debate. I had no assurances that that would not happen. Therefore, my only option to ensure that the Bill received a Second Reading was to rule for closure.
I had told the Minister on several previous occasions that we had hoped to move the closure motion slightly earlier because there was subsequent business that we regarded as important; it was not that I did not find her intervention fascinating. I put that on the record.
The Minister said that she regards the amendments as purely technical to make my Bill work in the way in which I want it to work. Having read them, I cannot say that I have reached the same conclusion. The Minister knows more about such matters than I do, as that is her job, and it is not mine. I make no pretence about the effort involved in coming to terms with complicated matters such as section 630 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988. However, I want to be clear that that is the purpose of the amendments, because the way in which I understand them is as follows.
Amendment No. 6 relates to section 630 of the Act, which defines all its terms. My Bill defines a personal pension fund. I understand that the amendment would remove the concept of a retirement investment fund from the definitions. I am worried that that is the first pecking away at the legislation, prior to its subsequent disembowelling. The amendment would remove from the standard definition in ICTA the notion of a retirement income fund as a new instrument. It therefore brings the definition into line with the subsequent amendments, which would destroy the concept.
I have enormous problems working out where amendment No. 15 would go. It refers to the end of line 23, but line 23 is a title. I am therefore not sure how it fits into the text and whether it is supposed to go at the end of a previous bit or is a new section after the title. It is not clear. The amendment seems to allow the part of the fund that has been drawn down to be called a retirement income fund. It therefore removes my definition of a retirement income fund and substitutes that title for the draw-down funds that may exist under the present mechanism. That is my understanding. Until now, I seem to be winning the title and losing the substance, and left with a fancy name for a shell.
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The purpose of my proposed new paragraph (a) is to ensure that only approved institutions can manage a retirement income fund, as specified in the Act. The Government seem to want to remove that protection for investors. If the amendment were accepted, a retirement income fund would have no supervision and could place its funds in the hands of bodies that are outside the remit of the Financial Services Authority. It could even entrust them to me to manage, which would be a serious error. I realise that later Government amendments seem to define regulatory authorities, but at the moment that is how I interpret the amendments.
If the Minister says clearly what I understood to be the casethat the purpose of the amendments is not as I describe but merely to put my text into the correct legal formand confirms that it is not the beginning of the removal of the substance of my Bill but merely a re-writing in correct legal terms, I shall trust her. However, she grins to such an extent that I am not sure where I stand. Will she make that clear?
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Like the right hon. Gentleman, I am a relative novice in relation to such legislation. He has clearly stated what is wrong with the Government's amendments, but surely as the promoter of the Bill it is beholden on him to explain to the Committee the key purpose of the existing words. Perhaps he will do so later, but in determining the merits of the amendment it would be useful to understand his original purpose.