HL Deb 17 February 1988 vol 493 cc651-2

2.49 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when the reform of pensions, under the Social Security Act 1986, becomes effective, how they propose to ensure that the public are made aware of the new arrangements and the available choice of pensions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, the Government will be mounting an information campaign, using press and television advertising, to alert the public to the new choices in occupational and personal pensions opened up by the Social Security Act 1986. The advertising will be supported by a series of leaflets and fact sheets explaining in some detail how the new pensions arrangements will operate.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his Answer. Is he aware of the press release publicising pension reform which states that the promotion of a particular product and advice about the type of pension that might be suitable in any given case are the responsibility of the pension provider and professional advisers? Will the Minister inform me who are the pension providers? Will members of the DHSS advise in any given instance or, if not, who will?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am sorry if the press notice to which my noble friend has referred was unclear. Of course it would be quite improper for staff in DHSS local offices to give advice on personal and occupational pensions. Therefore, the phrase "the pension providers" means the people who provide those schemes; for example, unit trusts, building societies and so forth.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, I warmly welcome the statement that the noble Lord made in his original Answer to the Question. Will he accept from me, as one who has tried, that it is extremely difficult to give clear and intelligible advice about the various options that will be open to people in July regarding SERPS, occupational pensions and personal pensions? The public is in urgent need of clear, unambiguous and impartial advice on those matters. Does the Minister accept that there is now a danger that many people may merely opt for the course of action which results in the minimal payments at present with a possible financial loss later on? The advice from people who sell personal pensions, while being wholly honest, is not always impartial.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I accept that there is a danger that people who sell such schemes are not always impartial. That is why the department is publishing the leaflets to which I have already referred, which would give impartial advice, but of course it cannot go into detail and compare individual schemes. People would be well, advised first, to consult their employer and, secondly, to obtain professional advice from, for example, solicitors or accountants before making up their minds on the matter.