Pensions bill derailed again as general election called

Writes James Phillips

Night view of Big Ben and Westminster Bridge in London http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1999508/LB/londonLB.jpg

The pension schemes bill will face yet another delay as the UK seems set to have its third general election in five years on 12 December.

The bill contains provisions on collective defined contribution (CDC) schemes, regulations for the pensions dashboard, and additional powers for The Pensions Regulator (TPR).

While the general election date has yet to be agreed by the House of Lords, it is unlikely this will be rejected, and parliament is expected to be dissolved at midnight on 6 November.

Normally before a general election, there is a “wash-up” period, during which the political parties agree which uncontroversial bills, or parts of them, can be waved through the Houses of Parliament before it is dissolved.

However, as it is just two weeks since the Queen’s Speech, most bills have had little or no debate and the wash-up option is unlikely to be used, meaning the pension schemes bill is likely to be left off the statute book for the near future. The bill was due to have its second reading in the House of Lords today – ahead of a debate in the House of Commons – but this has now been pulled.

Willis Towers Watson director David Robbins said: “Bills before parliament at dissolution fall unless the parties can agree to rush them through, usually in truncated form. Given that the bill had made no meaningful progress, it does not look like a candidate for accelerated passage.

“Following the election, the bill – or a new bill containing all or some of its main measures – could be reintroduced.  Although political consensus around many of the measures gives them a good chance of making the statute book, they will have to compete with the post-election government’s other priorities for legislative time. However, as clauses have already been drafted, this might give them a head start over policies that are first floated in manifestos.”

Lane Clark & Peacock partner David Everett said the election “throws completely up in the air” all the work that has been undertaken over the past three years – but a government “whatever its hue” will need to confront the issues post-election.

“Even if [Boris] Johnson is returned, we don’t know whether the bill will be resurrected and, if so, by when,” he continued. “And if he isn’t, then at the very least there is likely to be a long delay while the work on the bill is reviewed by the coming administration.

“No matter how you look at it, this December’s general election has delivered yet another hiatus for occupational pensions policy, delivering further uncertainty for trustees, scheme sponsors, and members.

“But, perhaps when the bill returns, the opportunity can be taken to plug some of the obvious gaps in it – such as laying down an appropriate regulatory regime within which the nascent defined benefit consolidation market should operate.”

The national poll also means 2019 will now be the first year since at least 1900 when there has been no Budget from the government. The fiscal announcement was originally planned for 6 November but was then cancelled last week.