Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (Pension Scheme Amendment) Regulations 2024 Debate

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Department: Department for Energy Security & Net Zero
Tuesday 13th February 2024

(2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (Pension Scheme Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, these regulations were laid before the House on 19 December last year.

The 2011 report by the noble Lord, Lord Hutton of Furness, started the Government on the road to the reform of public sector pensions. Although the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 made a large number of reforms, it did not cover all public bodies, including those within the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority group.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, or NDA, is the statutory body responsible for the decommissioning and safe handling of the UK’s nuclear legacy. It has 17 sites across the United Kingdom, including Sellafield. The NDA was created in 2005 via the Energy Act 2004. However, many of its sites have been operating since the middle of the 20th century. This lengthy history has therefore led to a complicated set of pension arrangements. This includes two pension schemes that, although closed to new entrants since 2008, provide for final salary pensions and are in scope of the reforms. These are the combined nuclear pension plan and the site licence company section of the Magnox Electric Group of the electricity supply pension scheme.

In 2017, the then Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the NDA engaged with the trade unions to agree a reformed pension scheme tailored to the characteristics of the affected NDA employees. This resulted in a proposed bespoke career average revalued earnings—also known as CARE—scheme, which, following statutory consultation with affected NDA employees and a ballot of union members, was formally accepted by the trade unions. The bespoke scheme is in line with the move to CARE made by the rest of the public sector.

Subsequently, a formal government consultation was launched in May 2018 and the Government published a response in December 2018 confirming the proposed changes. The reformed scheme still offers excellent benefits to its members. Notably—indeed, unusually for other reformed schemes—it still includes provision for members to retire at their current retirement age. For nearly all of them, this will be 60.

A statutory framework which applied to pension benefits across the NDA estate meant that specific legislation was needed to implement the new reformed scheme. The Energy Act 2023 provided the Secretary of State with the powers to make secondary legislation designating a person who will be required to amend the provisions of a nuclear pension scheme. This secondary legislation is being made to require the NDA and Magnox Ltd to amend relevant NDA pension schemes and implement CARE-based pension reform in accordance with the broader public sector pay policy. The instrument will also modify the statutory pension protections contained in the Energy Act 2004 and the Electricity (Protected Persons) (England and Wales) Pension Regulations 1990 in support of the reforms.

In conclusion, these measures will bring the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority group’s final salary pensions into line with wider public sector pensions. It will also deliver savings to the NDA budget, which will be recycled to support its mission of decommissioning the UK’s nuclear legacy. On that basis, I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that explanation, particularly as he does not seem in the best of health. I do not want to add to his distress, but I want to raise three issues.

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Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. There is little information available other than the statutory instrument and the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum. I also note that this has not been picked up in any way by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I do not have many overriding concerns or objections, and I understand that it is likely to be the same for others speaking today. I will pick up the points that the noble Lord made, particularly in relation to the small numbers who have been excluded under paragraph 7.3.

These measures will bring NDA pensions into line with wider public sector pensions in a move from a final salary scheme to a career average scheme. The proposals have been agreed with the unions and include provisions for retirement on full pension before the state pension age. I welcome that.

As is customary, I will ask the Minister a few questions. Most of them relate to the same issue, namely that of timing—the cause of the timing and whether that delay has had any impact on the proposals being put forward today. I am just not certain, so I will ask questions around those issues.

As the noble Lord said, this was originally completed way back in 2017 and the consultation was published in May 2018. The Explanatory Memorandum blames a lack of parliamentary time for this almost seven-year delay in bringing this into law. Can it really be correct that it has taken a full six or seven years to find a few minutes of parliamentary time to carry these small changes forward? Maybe it is, but I seek clarification on that point.

Considering these proposals are now late, is there any impact as a result? The report says that the unions supported the proposals. Has their position changed since they were originally consulted? Has the Minister or his officials gone back to the unions to ask for an update on their position? Was the last time they were consulted back in 2017? I seek clarification on that, because it was not clear from the information provided.

The Explanatory Memorandum states that the proposals will save an estimated £200 million over the term of the scheme. Is that figure still correct following the delay? Is it the same amount? Has there been any loss of public funding from the delay in bringing these proposals forward? Are there any changes to the long-term savings?

Obviously, we are dealing with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. If any issues of people being exposed to radiation that were not known about came to light after these proposals came forward, would there be any changes in the pensions available to them as a result of the changes to the scheme?

Paragraph 10.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum mentions that most of the responses were against the proposals, but there is very little information. I understand that there were not many objections and that these were small numbers, but there was no information in the pack about the reasons for the objections. Could I ask for a sentence on that?

Paragraph 11.2 says that these proposals will impact 8,000 staff and that consultations will begin on 1 April. Is that still the same number? Has it changed over time?

I note the Government brought forward their civil nuclear road map last month, which involves a big expansion of our civil nuclear programme. Is the reason why this been delayed for seven or eight years and then rushed forward related—

Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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No? Okay, that is fine. Finally, how will the Minister monitor the implementation of the changes? Will that be reported anywhere?

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, this instrument enacts the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority pension scheme, based on the review of public sector pension schemes by my noble friend Lord Hutton in 2011. This resulted in the Public Sector Pensions Act, which enabled the majority of public sector pensions to move from final salary to career average revalued earnings schemes. About 8,000 workers are affected as a result of this instrument. We have nothing to complain about on the scheme, but the process has raised a few questions, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, have pointed out. I would like these to be addressed.

During the consultation, many respondents raised concerns that the proposed definitions and the application of the proposed powers were insufficiently clear or too broad. Many sought assurances that the powers would be restricted to implementing the reform agreed with their national trade unions. Furthermore, respondents requested either member or trade union and/or trustee engagement prior to the use of any of the powers. Could the Minister respond to those concerns?

The trustees of the CNPP and MEG-ESPS asked that they be given sufficient time to review the final rule amendments, indicating that about 12 months would have been appropriate. The response to the consultation says that, in the light of this specific request, as much notice as possible would be given to the trustees and members prior to implementation. We now know that the implementation date will be 1 April 2024. Can the Minister tell us when the Government notified the trustees of the changes? Did they deem this sufficient for their purposes of consultation and informing their members?

The noble Lord, Lord Young, raised a concern regarding the reform of the pensions for NDA employees who are covered by the Electricity (Protected Persons) (Scotland) Pension Regulations, which were not included in the public consultation. There are very few of them, as the noble Lord and the information provided say. How many are there? If a change is to be brought in for the persons in Scotland, presumably another full consultation will take place to precede any further regulations.

Finally, to repeat the question of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the decision to introduce the scheme was taken on 28 December. There has been plenty of parliamentary time for this half-hour debate to take place, so could we have the actual reason why it was delayed so long?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions to this debate.

I will start with the points made by my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. On the small numbers of people excluded, if an individual is entitled to pension protection under the Electricity (Protected Persons) (Scotland) Pension Regulations, they are not in scope for the changes in the NDA group. Whether an individual has this protection will depend on whom they were employed by and the pension scheme that they were eligible to be a member of in March 1990. The Government have reserved their position to keep this under review.

I think that every noble Lord rightly raised the delay in bringing forward these provisions. It was not that we could not find 20 minutes of parliamentary time over six years—if that were true, my noble friend would have a very valid point—but that we did not get the primary powers we required, as he will recall, until the Energy Bill was enacted late last year. It was entirely a result of needing the primary powers before we could make these changes, not a lack of parliamentary time. A great many other measures were held up due to lack of parliamentary time, but that was not the reason for the delay here. My honourable friend the Minister for Nuclear in the other place met the trade unions last year to discuss the NDA provisions in the then Energy Bill. They noted that they were also concerned about the length of time but, when the delay was explained, they were broadly understanding of the reasons.

On the £200 million of savings, despite the delay in the introduction of this legislation, we estimate that the level of savings remains broadly accurate. The exact level will depend on the change to pension arrangements and will vary depending on when members of staff retire, but we still believe that the savings will be significant, of the order of £200 million.

The number of staff affected—broadly 8,000—remains the same. Employees affected were aware of the changes due to be enacted as of April 2024, and there has been a great deal of communication during the last year, including a website set up for those affected. If changes are required to schemes not covered by these regulations, such as schemes in Scotland, that would require further consultation. The Government remain committed to ensuring that public sector pension reform proceeds in line with the 2011 review of the noble Lord, Lord Hutton. These regulations are essential to the success of the implementation of CARE-based pension reform in the NDA group in accordance with broader public sector pay policy.

Reflecting back, it is evident that the complexities of the NDA group’s pension schemes required tailored reforms. Engagement with the trade unions resulted in a bespoke career average revalued earnings scheme, aligning with the broader public sector framework and maintaining valuable benefits for its members. Furthermore, the reform preserves commitments to those excellent benefits, notably including provisions for members to retire at their current retirement age, as I said in opening, which for the majority will be 60. These measures will align NDA group final salary pensions with wider public sector standards, ensuring fairness and efficiency, yielding substantial financial savings and bolstering the NDA’s mission of responsibly decommissioning the UK’s nuclear legacy. I think I have answered all the points put to me—

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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I am very grateful for my noble friend’s explanation that it was not a shortage of parliamentary time. As there are four former business managers in the Committee at the moment, will he ensure that in future his department does not blame the absence of parliamentary time when that is not the reason for the delay?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend makes a very good point. I will communicate that to officials. With that, I commend these reforms to the Committee.

Motion agreed.