VoteClimate: Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] - 7th October 2020

Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] - 7th October 2020

Here are the climate-related sections of speeches by MPs during the Commons debate Pension Schemes Bill [Lords].

Full text: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-10-07/debates/1B2F043E-B6F7-4ACF-B486-E232D9366061/PensionSchemesBill(Lords)

12:48 Therese Coffey (Conservative)

The Bill transforms the way people get information about their retirement savings, bringing pensions into the digital age by allowing people to see all their pension information in one place, at the touch of a button. Importantly, it will ensure that individual savers can be told exactly how their pensions will be affected by the increases in the global temperature and what their scheme contributes to carbon emissions. Through the Bill, the UK will be among the very first countries in the world to put climate change reporting for pension funds into law. That is a crucial step towards meeting the Government’s net zero ambition. It will ensure that pension funds play a leading role in the decarbonisation agenda.

My constituents in Norfolk are passionate about climate change. They want to have safe and sustainable investments for the future. Can the Secretary of State explain how they will be able to invest sustainably and safely, and how the Bill will help them with that?

My hon. Friend represents one of the constituencies with the highest number of pensioners in the country, but for his future pensioners this is an important Bill. It will bring transparency for the first time about what is happening with individual investments. This Government are not in favour of trying to force divestment of different elements of fossil fuels and the like—I am conscious that he has Bacton in his constituency. But the Bill is about making sure that the trustees—effectively, the way in which pension funds will be used—are clear about how they can contribute to ensuring that we tackle climate change, and how their investments can play a part in making that happen.

Climate risk is a key worry for many people in this country. The Government are resolute in how we want to help to tackle emissions to achieve our commitment to net zero by 2050. The Bill will make the pensions system greener and support the commitment to reach net zero by 2050. Clause 124 contains regulation-making powers to require scheme trustees and managers, for the purpose of managing climate-related risks, to take climate change goals, including the Government’s net-zero target and the Paris agreement temperature goal, into account. The clause enables regulations to be made mandating pension schemes to adopt and report against the recommendations of the taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures. This will ensure that occupational pension schemes take into account climate change and the response to it in the Government’s risk management and investment strategy, and report on how they have done so. Such measures will ensure that occupational pension schemes take climate change into account, and require that trustees disclose progress to their scheme members and the public.

Climate change is one of the defining challenges facing the planet for this and future generations, and the trillions invested in pension funds worldwide offer an enormous opportunity to build back better, greener and sustainably. I am extremely proud that we are at the forefront of efforts to effect real and lasting change. These pension measures are among the first of their kind on the international stage.

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13:06 Jonathan Reynolds (Labour)

All that brings me to the contents of the Bill. First, I want people to know that their pension savings—their assets—will directly contribute to the future they want for themselves and their family. I am immensely proud of the work that my Labour colleagues did in the other place—much of it behind the scenes—to put climate commitments for pension funds into UK legislation for the first time ever. This is not just lip service, but genuine commitments, formalising the requirements of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and enshrining a commitment towards the Paris agreement for trustees and managers of occupational pension schemes. That is fundamental to tackling the climate emergency, and it is a vital contributor to the health of pension funds. The long-term prospects of fossil fuel companies have implicit risks, and it is only right that those risks are taken into consideration as part of the financial responsibility that schemes have towards their members.

The Bill also contains the blueprint for the pensions dashboard, one of the most long-awaited policy initiatives in history. We want to future-proof that dashboard, so that one day people can see in black and white an easily understandable measure that tells them how exposed to climate risk their retirement portfolio is. I know that the industry wants to make sure that we learn to walk before we start to run, and that the creation of the dashboard in itself is no small proposal, but I want us to be as ambitious as we can. Frankly, there is no time to waste when it comes to the climate emergency.

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13:16 Andrea Leadsom (Conservative)

My fourth and final point is about investing in decarbonisation. It was fantastic yesterday to hear the Prime Minister talking about our ambition to be world-leading in clean growth. That was, in fact, the No. 1 priority that I set out for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy when the Prime Minister first took office last year. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister are determined to help our pensions system contribute to the excellent action on decarbonisation that the Government are already taking. I totally agree with them that this multibillion-pound sector can be a real force for good, and investing in the green economy can play a part in helping us to level up across the UK.

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13:26 Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

We also support part 4, as it provides the legislative framework for the pensions dashboard—the digital platform that will enable people to see all their pension savings in one place so that they can make better decisions and informed decisions about their retirement plans. Part 5 pulls together a number of other provisions that we support—specifically clauses 123 and 124—and other areas such as climate change reporting. It is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to address the climate emergency, so we welcome these measures.

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13:37 Nigel Mills (Conservative)

Finally—I asked the Secretary of State about this—the pensions industry can be a huge force for good, and thanks to auto-enrolment it is investing billions of pounds every year. However, it should not invest passively, or just put money in, leave it there, and see what happens. When we have scandals, or corporate failures or disasters, we frequently see that large investors in some companies have not been playing an active role in ensuring the high standards that they should have expected. We must send out a loud and clear message that, where pension schemes and their asset managers are sizeable investors in some of the largest and most significant businesses in our country, we expect them to play an active role in the stewardship of those companies, and not just leave it to others. That is essential if the climate change measures in the Bill are to work. We should not just expect a report every couple of years.

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14:04 Gareth Davies (Conservative)

Finally, let me address clause 124, requiring pension fund managers to include climate change risk. Again, I would expect pension fund managers already to be incorporating climate considerations in their investment process—climate change is clearly a risk for all pension pots. I am disappointed that we have to include it in the Bill, but I welcome it none the less and highlight how it emphasises, once again, this Government’s commitment to green finance.

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14:22 Ben Lake (Plaid Cymru)

The Bill represents a welcome step towards ensuring the security and responsible use of UK pension schemes. I particularly welcome clause 124, which addresses the vital issue of climate change: the risk it represents to our long-term socioeconomic security, and the role that pension funds can play as key levers in the decarbonisation effort of our economy. Wales has a proud record on sustainability and climate change mitigation. A commitment to sustainable development is written into our de facto constitution and we were a world leader with our Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. I know the Minister is aware of the groundbreaking work undertaken at the Centre for Alternative Technology, which is located in the constituency of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams). There is also groundbreaking work undertaken on my side of the Dyfi estuary. In particular, Aberystwyth University boasts the world-leading Centre for Glaciology, while IBERS—the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences—and Aberinnovation campus conduct crucial work on climate change mitigation.

Achieving net zero emissions will undoubtedly be a difficult and expensive challenge, yet, as the past few months have shown, the state, with its unrivalled ability to borrow and invest, can effect unprecedented change to our society and economy quite rapidly when there is a desire or need to do so. With around £3 trillion invested in UK pension schemes, pensions represent an equally transformative source of investment, and could support our decarbonisation efforts.

I welcome the requirements in the Bill for pension schemes to assess their exposure to climate change risk. Those requirements are necessary and well overdue. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s estimate that climate change could eliminate up to 30% of the world’s total manageable assets, along with the fact that the vast majority of UK pension schemes currently do not take climate change risk into account, offer sufficient justification for the introduction of the requirements.

Closer to home, in 2019 Welsh local authority pension funds still had more than £1 billion invested in fossil fuels. That means not only that the pension holders are exposed to future climate change risk, but that the funds are—indirectly at least—undermining collective efforts to decarbonise the economy. I therefore urge the UK Government to consider how they can better work with the Welsh Government to encourage the use of pension wealth to realise decarbonisation and productivity improvements across the four nations of the United Kingdom.

The opportunities are there. In recent years, vital projects such as the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon have gone unrealised, while the UK Government have proven themselves unwilling to finance key aspects of our carbon transition in Wales, including improvements to the Welsh railways. Simply put, we have an opportunity to make pensions work better for Wales, to achieve our climate targets and to meet our international commitments.

I welcome the Bill’s increased powers for the pension regulator and the greater urgency for funds to consider climate change risk, but the Bill could go one step further. The finance sector has already taken welcome steps not only towards divestment, but in advancing the environmental, social, and corporate governance agenda. The UK Government could bolster those efforts by amending the Bill so that all default funds are required to reach net zero by 2050, at the latest. That would stimulate green investment, as well as industry development, including better reporting standards and stewardship, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) earlier.

Pension funds have a pivotal role to play in decarbonisation—from influencing companies’ boardrooms to invest in a green transition, to protecting pension holders from the risk of climate change. For too long, their transformative potential as investors in that regard has been underutilised, so I welcome the Bill, and particularly clause 124, and hope that the Government can consider strengthening it further so that pension schemes play an even greater part in achieving our vital climate change targets.

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14:27 Shaun Bailey (Conservative)

I briefly want to touch on the point about climate change. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who is not in her place, made the point about ensuring that we encourage funds to invest in new green technology. Green technology is going to be a vital part of what I call the “industrial flourishment”, particularly in an area such as mine in the Black Country. I am really fortunate to have in my area groups such as the midland housing group that has been pioneering fuel cell—battery cell—technology some 23 years before it has actually been used, and it is investment in technologies such as that that will power through the economic revival as we come out of this pandemic and crisis.

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14:34 Steve McCabe (Labour)

In terms of the green agenda, I welcome what the Bill offers, but there is a persuasive argument for saying that default pension funds should support Government net zero targets. There is about £3 trillion invested in UK pensions, and that could make a real difference in achieving low-carbon investment. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that climate change could wipe $43 trillion off the global economy—about 30% of the world’s manageable assets. So trustees pursuing net zero targets would inevitably be respecting their fiduciary duty to protect members’ interests if they were to go down that road. It is not about a choice between being green and their members’ interests: it is about recognising what the green challenge is, and how we could use those assets to get much closer to what the Government are seeking.

The hon. Gentleman is making some very good points that I would like to add to, as someone who has dealt with many of our country’s pension funds. There is a disconnect between what the pensioners and the trustees believe: they would like to see much more investment in climate change initiatives and funds, but most of our pension funds are advised by a handful of consultants who are often a blockage to investment in, for example, ESG—environmental, social and governance—funds. Does he have any thoughts as to how we unblock the consultants aspect of this?

Let me try to clarify the legitimate point raised by the hon. Gentleman and also the flipside in terms of the argument by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies). The Department for Work and Pensions has driven pension trustees forward to embrace ESG and the path of net zero, and asset managers have been lagging behind. I want to put on record the good work done by the FCA, which I accept has been criticised legitimately in the past. Only last week, Chris Woolard and his team specifically issued guidance that accelerates the asset managers to put them on a parallel path to the pension trustees so that we basically ensure that the original investor, and then the actual manager of the money, are singing from the same hymn sheet.

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14:45 Harriett Baldwin (Conservative)

Let me turn to climate change risk. The Treasury Committee, on which I now serve, is currently doing an inquiry into green finance, and it is clear that the UK has a huge opportunity to make the most of our leadership—not only on climate generally, but also as a financial centre—and to be the go-to place for green finance, green investment and green bond insurance. I heartily endorse the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) for the UK to show the way not just by being the place where other countries come to issue green bonds, but by being the country that issues green bonds itself to invest in greening our economy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she is saying, but as for what Mr Mark Carney has said, she will be aware that he is a member of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. Under the Bill, the UK will be the first G7 country to bring such disclosures into statute. The advantage of that is that the very aspect that she has highlighted as a problem—FTSE 100 companies are not aware of what the risk is from climate change to the way in which they do business—will be tackled, as they will now be forced to disclose that on an ongoing basis to the wider market and individual consumers with pension investments. I believe that the issue raised by Carney, the Treasury Committee and others is addressed in the Bill and the consultation that accompanies it.

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15:02 Aaron Bell (Conservative)

I want briefly to touch on another couple of the elements of the Bill. I know that postmen and women, in particular, in Newcastle-under-Lyme will welcome the provisions enabling the introduction of collective defined contribution schemes. These have cross-party and industry support, and unions including the Communication Workers Union, as well as Master Trust and other pension providers, have expressed a desire to see more people benefiting from the advantages and risk-sharing that collective defined contribution schemes can bring. I think that that is broadly welcomed across the House. I will also mention the good work being done so that we use our pensions for the good of the planet, and the requirement that the Bill puts on trustees and managers, with a view to securing effective governance over the effects of climate change, and publishing information. That is not being prescriptive; it is about informing and empowering schemes and individuals to make decisions.

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15:20 Duncan Baker (Conservative)

But back to saving the planet. Clause 124 represents a hugely significant step, and it is in tune with the speech that the Prime Minister gave yesterday. Climate change continues, quite rightly, to take centre stage in so much of our legislative agenda. This is the first pensions Bill ever to mention climate change. Pension trustees must now consider climate change as financially material to members’ investments. Under the regulations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, schemes must consider the response to climate change as both a risk and an opportunity in their governance risk management strategy, and they must publish that information.

When we think of the billions upon billions invested in pension funds, we can see that allowing pension schemes and the market to embrace the green agenda will enable people to put their own savings into helping us to achieve net zero. Perhaps for the first time ever—even if we never quite thought we would say this—saving for our retirement can now be seen as saving the planet as well.

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15:31 Wendy Chamberlain (Liberal Democrat)

Finally, the Liberal Democrats welcome clause 124—it is a welcome step—and the Secretary of State’s comments on asset managers earlier. Beyond covid, the climate emergency remains the biggest future challenge to the UK. As I said at the outset, there is much to welcome in the Bill, but I echo the comments of the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), that it does not address previous pension injustices, including the persistence of a gender pension gap and the situation experienced by previous members of the plumbers’ pension scheme; like the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson), I am a member of the APPG, and have affected constituents. I hope that those situations will be looked at further in Committee.

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15:37 Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and the Secretary of State have said, the Bill, as first introduced in the House of Lords, focused on three key areas: first, CDC schemes; secondly, the role of the Pensions Regulator; and thirdly, the pensions dashboard. Part 5 also included provisions on DB scheme funding and transfer rights. Now the Bill contains one further key area, and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) was right when he said that it is the first time that such a measure has appeared in pensions legislation. From the outset, it was our strong view that the Bill offered an opportunity to make progress on the role of pension schemes in combating climate change. Originally, there was not a single reference to climate change or to environmental concerns in the Bill. Now, there is a set of provisions in clause 124, headed “Climate change risk”, which require those managing pension funds to take climate targets into account in their overall governance and to disclose climate change risks and opportunities.

I have one further point on climate change. In exchanges on the Floor of the House earlier this year, the Pensions Minister agreed that, at the appropriate stage, we should hold a climate change pensions summit. I hope that today he will reaffirm that commitment, not least because of this excellent debate and the excellent contributions from the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and others who said that, during this great historic challenge of climate change, we are seeing not only the immense potential of investment by pension funds, but the extent to which that will greatly benefit pension schemes. Such a summit would be very welcome indeed.

As I said earlier, I do not for one moment accept the premise that somehow DB schemes are history or are not worth protecting. DB schemes currently have 10.5 million members, with £1.5 trillion under management. Those assets can be invested in sustainable and long-term ways, such as in infrastructure projects and initiatives—including those with a positive approach to climate change—as well as generating the best possible return for the scheme members. They remain a crucial part of the pensions landscape, so it is a legitimate concern that the Bill does not adequately recognise the difference between DB schemes that are open to new members and those that are closed. The former includes many public sector schemes. By overlooking that distinction, the Bill risks imposing overly conservative—with a small c— measures on open DB schemes that may ultimately threaten their sustainability.

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15:52 Guy Opperman (Conservative)

Let me turn to green technology and climate change. I look forward to my visit to mid-Wales and to working with the Welsh Government. I agree with the point made that if one wants to change the world, investing in a pension is unquestionably the right way forward. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich West and for Grantham and Stamford, and I am certain that the Treasury is listening to the idea of green gilts as an alternative vehicle for pension funds to invest in on an ongoing basis.

There is no doubt that, by including climate-related Financial discloures in the Bill, we are continuing a narrative: this Government are driving forward work against climate change more than any other Government in the world. We are the first Government in the G7 to legislate for net zero. We are leading the way on environmental, social and corporate governance throughout the European Union, as is acknowledged by all our partners in the EU. We are the first Government to legislate to bring CFDs into law in this country. Without a shadow of a doubt, this builds on the work that we have done, and on the promises and assurances made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his speech to the Conservative party conference yesterday.

We are pushing ahead with an innovative and ambitious pensions agenda that is reforming retirement. It delivers on commitments made in a manifesto backed by the people of this country in December 2019. It makes our constituents’ pensions safer, better and greener—safer by cracking down on scams and unscrupulous bosses, better by utilising new technology to develop and create a dashboard, and greener by ensuring that we get to net zero through ethical and sustainable pension investment. I look forward to further discussion, and I commend the Bill to the House.

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