Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (Pension Scheme Amendment) Regulations 2024 Debate

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

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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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—