Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Committee for Finance, meeting on Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Keith Buchanan (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Pat Catney
Miss Jemma Dolan
Mr Maolíosa McHugh
Mr Matthew O'Toole
Mr Jim Wells


Ms Nuala O'Donnell, Irish National Teachers' Organisation
Ms Alison Millar, Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance
Mr Dessie Lowry, Royal College of Nursing

Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill: Public-sector Unions

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): I welcome Alison Millar, general secretary of the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA); Dessie Lowry, the union representative for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN); and Nuala O'Donnell, the union representative for the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO). The Fire Brigades Union's (FBU) representative was unable to attend today's session. The session is being recorded by Hansard.

Am I right in understanding, Alison, that you will be retiring from NIPSA shortly?

Ms Alison Millar (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance): Yes.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): That is what it says here, so I may get it right. [Laughter.]

Please accept the Committee's thanks for all your evidence and our best wishes for the future.

Ms Millar: I may be back in front of the Committee again because I am staying on with the pensions issue, for a little while anyway.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): So you are not really retiring? [Laughter.]

I invite you to provide opening statements, in whatever order you see fit, of up to 15 minutes in total, after which members will ask questions.

Ms Millar: I will kick off, and then Dessie and Nuala will come in.

First, on behalf of all the public-sector trade unions, I thank the Committee. It is important that the Committee realises that Nuala, Dessie and Jim, had he been available, and I are here not to solely represent our four areas but all areas of the public sector. We have been tasked as a subgroup, on behalf of all the public-sector trade unions, to take forward all the McCloud issues and those connected to it, so we cover all the trade unions. Certainly, we cover a number of specific trade unions, and we have obviously consulted them on issues that will come up in the Committee today.

As the Committee knows, this measure is primarily driven by actions to prevent unlawful age discrimination, which is commonly known as the McCloud remedy. To clarify a point, when we met the Committee earlier this year, there was a question mark over the use of a legislative consent motion (LCM) or whether there should be primary legislation. At that time, we reserved our position on that because we had not seen the Bill. The Bill was not published at Westminster until late July.

While the trade unions collectively have no issue with an LCM, because this issue is specifically on McCloud, we have concerns that the Bill, as it currently sits at Westminster — I think that it has reached its final stage — is not how we believe the issue should be addressed. I do not think that that will be a surprise to the Committee. It is not an issue of principle on an LCM; it is an issue about how the remedy is proposed in the primary legislation. Ultimately, however, the Assembly is responsible for taking forward how the age discrimination element is addressed. The key issue for trade unions is about how the remedy is to be proposed.

I will keep this fairly simple on behalf of the trade unions. The Government were found to be discriminatory on the grounds of age in relation to how they implemented the decisions. If in any other employment context, an employer is found to discriminate, whether on religion, age or whatever, the employer pays. If an employer discriminates against an individual, the employer normally, or always, foots the bill for that. Yet, in this set of circumstances, the scheme members are being asked to pay for the discrimination that was introduced by government, and by "government", I mean Westminster and the Assembly.

We believe that it is ludicrous or absurd that the remedy — the cost of the discrimination — is proposed to come from scheme members. That is fairly simplistic, but it demonstrates the ask now. Liz Truss suspended the 2016 valuations and how they would be implemented, which, for most schemes — this was not for all schemes, but the majority — meant that scheme members would benefit from a better accrual rate, therefore delivering better benefits to scheme members. That was suspended by Liz Truss, and, at that stage, we knew some of the issues for some of the schemes, although maybe not for 100% of them. However, we know that, had the decision on the McCloud remedy been three or four months later, the suspension of those 26 valuations and the proposal for how they would be implemented would already be put forward and members would not now be asked to pay the cost of the discrimination.

I want to keep it fairly simple, because that clearly demonstrates that the Bill, as it is currently presented, means that scheme members would pay for the discrimination against them by the Government, and we think that that is absurd.

Another issue, which we have raised previously, is that, as you are aware, whatever the remedy for this matter, when an individual retires, they are given the option to choose the one that, on the face of it, is the most beneficial. As we explained to the Committee the last time that we presented, it may, on paper, look as though option A is best for the individual. However, depending on their financial circumstances and all the issues that surround that, we believe that every member, when they come to the point of retirement and to making those choices, should be given financial advice that is paid for by government, because, again, those issues came about only because of that element of discrimination. As far as I am aware, that has not been agreed at Westminster level, but it is something that the Committee and the Northern Ireland Assembly need to give consideration to.

Can we clarify something with you? I think that Dessie is going to address this issue in more detail. I stand to be corrected — sometimes, finding your way through all the Westminster stuff is difficult — but our understanding is that, if it is dealt with by an LCM, and then technical papers will come to Westminster, they will not necessarily come through the Committee. Dessie will deal with that; I think that he has the transcript on it. It is much more detailed than that. We are very concerned that the detail in those very technical papers will not be scrutinised by the Assembly or the Committee. We do not know whether the measure will be implemented on a general basis or on a scheme-by-scheme basis. We have concerns about that. It is a complex and very complicated matter, and we want to ensure that things are dealt with appropriately. We have a responsibility to our members across public-sector schemes to ensure that the outcome of the process is not to their detriment.

I will hand over to Nuala and then to Dessie, who will pick up some other issues.

Ms Nuala O'Donnell (Irish National Teachers' Organisation): Alison spoke about the valuation, and that happened because the cost-cap floor was breached on the 2016 valuations. Alison covered the issues on that. There was a consultation document from Treasury during the summer on changes to the cost cap. A similar consultation needs to take place in Northern Ireland. We all responded to the Treasury consultation because we are very concerned that not only have the outcomes of the 2016 valuation, which were beneficial to employees, been used to cover the cost of the discrimination by the employer but it is now looking to change how the cost cap operates, which would be detrimental to employees. That is another aspect. While that is not in the Bill, it is almost like a fallout from it. It is something that we will need to keep a watchful eye on. As I said, we need a Northern Ireland consultation about that if it is going through Treasury.

The other aspect is the outworkings of McCloud. There is an indication in the Bill that the information that will be available in statements to members about the two schemes — the legacy scheme and the care scheme — will mention an 18-month window for them. Our concern with that is that members who should be able to make those choices will not have the information to be able to do so. We take on board that a lot of work needs to be done. That is another issue that will need to be looked at in all the schemes in order to ensure that they have the funds and resources to do that work. It is also about the timescales. There are already people who have retired and are within the window of 2015 to 2022, although 2022 has not happened yet.

Their pensions will have to be dealt with. Pensions of people who have died also fell within that window, so there is a lot. If we delay, even from 2022, for another 18 months, a lot more people will potentially fall within that scope. There are a lot of issues arising from the Bill, not just the concerns that Alison highlighted. I will pass on to Dessie.

Mr Dessie Lowry (Royal College of Nursing): Thank you very much, Chairman, for your invitation. The trade unions are looking at the general concerns that have arisen as we have followed the passage of the Bill. At the moment, it is in the House of Lords, and it had its Second Reading a few weeks ago. When Viscount Younger of Leckie moved the Second Reading, he made it very clear that dealing with pensions is extremely complex and that the legislation has to be tailored to specific needs, be that the pension needs of health and social care, the armed forces, teachers and so on. We have our own legislation in Northern Ireland. My understanding, from reading what has gone on at Westminster, is that the honourable Member who moved the Bill's Second Reading indicated that measures will be coming through Parliament as statutory instruments for further scrutiny and that he has pledged to deposit further policy statements at Westminster. Our issue is this: to what degree will the Northern Ireland Assembly, particularly your Committee, have sight of those policy statements and statutory instruments that will go through, because they will have to be replicated here so that every public-sector pension scheme is given that level of scrutiny and robust assessment? At the end of the day, pensions are, effectively, deferred wages that our members have paid into, albeit with contributions from their employer. We want to see no detriment as the legislation passes through.

I did not hear the contribution from your policy adviser. I tried to listen to snippets, but I did not get his full assessment of the paper in front of you. One of the context issues is understanding the fuller context for pensions. Yes, whilst we are focused on McCloud, and there are issues for the judiciary, for which the pension age is being raised from 70 to 75, our primary focus is on what is going on in the Northern Ireland pensions' landscape. I know that your policy adviser took you through the 2006 valuations, which are not complete yet.

There is also the issue over the cost-control mechanism, which is still under review. The superannuation contributions adjusted for past experience (SCAPE) discount rate aspect of the cost-control mechanism is very technical and still out to public consultation. On top of that, we have the effect of the changes of the 2020 valuations, which should have been completed by this stage. All that landscape is out there, and you have the passage of the Westminster Bill and a legislative consent motion. We are trying to understand the full impact. Select Committees in the House of Commons have said that we should stand still and evaluate what has happened with our previous schemes in order to get a full understanding of the impact.

I hope what my colleagues said will be taken into account by your Committee, because we need a robust assessment of the legislation and its various adjuncts, such as what Treasury can do that will impact on our pensions if it is empowered to make directions. I will just put on record once again that we do not believe that our members should pay. Across the UK, the cost of the remedy is estimated at £17 billion. As Alison quite rightly pointed out, if it were any other jurisdiction where discrimination was found, employees would not have to pay. Thank you.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): Thank you, Alison, Nuala and Dessie. I appreciate your points. I will kick off with a couple of questions, then we will have a few from members. I appreciate that we have heard several different points. If the LCM is not passed by the Assembly, the Minister may elect to bring forward his own legislation. Can you sum up the main points that you would like him to include in such legislation?

Ms Millar: Given that it appears that the Westminster legislation will get Royal Assent, an LCM would not be appropriate for all the reasons that we outlined, so you would then need to bring forward primary legislation. There is a big vacuum here. The issue is not about getting it done by a particular date, namely 31 March 2022; it is about getting it done right. We are aware that legal action has already been taken by GB trade unions on the issue, and it would be regrettable if we were forced into a situation where we potentially had to take a judicial review or other legal proceedings in order to halt the measure. That is not how we want to operate. There have been enough legal arguments on the issue, and it has been dragged out.

At this point in time, if the Westminster legislation gets Royal Assent, the Assembly would need to take a step back and decide how it will pursue the matter, because, ultimately, the unions will be forced into a position of taking legal proceedings in order to halt its implementation. That will not do anybody any good. It will exacerbate the situation. Our position is clear: Treasury, not scheme members, needs to pay for the discrimination that was implemented. That is our succinct point.

Scheme members in many of the schemes should actually, as part of the 26 valuations, have accrued better benefits over the past three-year period. That has not happened. At this point in time, if the legislation gets Royal Assent at Westminster, the Assembly would need to pause and decide how it will take the matter forward. I am aware that legal proceedings are already in the pipeline or are being implemented in GB. As sure as day follows night, it is likely that we will get into another legal wrangle. Legal issues are not resolved quickly. That will add to complications. I appreciate that, for expediency, it would be nice to follow Westminster for those reasons but not if scheme members across the UK will now be asked to pay the cost of the discrimination. It is just not tenable from the point of view of trade unions and scheme members.

I do not know whether my colleagues want to add anything.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): That is fine. Dessie, are you happy enough with that?

Mr Lowry: Yes. I am content.

Mr McHugh: Fáilte romhaibh uilig. You are all very welcome. Thanks very much for your presentation. My question relates to more or less the same issue. I detect a lack of confidence, if anything, about how the Government will actually deal with the whole issue. You expressed concern about the danger that the cost to remedy the unlawful discrimination will fall on scheme members, even though the Department has given assurances that that will not be the case. You still have those concerns. Do you really feel that it will be left to members?

Ms Millar: Absolutely it will. Not all the scheme advisory boards (SAB) have reported, and these are interim valuations, but I will give one example. In the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the draft valuation is sitting at 5·3%, and the cost of the McCloud remedy is 4·8%. So, within that 5·3%, the vast bulk of the additional cost is from the valuation and the cost of the McCloud remedy. It was only ever paused at Westminster level because scheme members — this must have been in the thought process — were likely to benefit from it; whereas now, it will be a disbenefit, given that the valuations that were to be implemented at that time and their benefits have now been wiped out. At this point, not all schemes have been given a draft valuation. I think that the teachers' scheme has been given a draft valuation.

Ms O'Donnell: The teacher scheme is 5·3%, and the valuation is 5·2%, so it is wiped out. The benefits from the valuations are completely wiped out by the McCloud remedy.

Mr Lowry: The health and social care SAB made representations on the 2016 scheme. As requested, we made proposals to the Department on the benefits, but those were stayed. When we got the re-evaluation following McCloud, we found that they would not be attainable. Like my colleagues, we have not got the percentage yet, but we have made a request through the collective consultation working group on public-sector pensions, which the Northern Ireland Civil Service chairs.

Mr McHugh: In addition, you have, more or less, implied that bespoke Assembly legislation is your preferred option. Given the time constraints at present, is it likely — I picked this up from your comments — that pressure will be put on you to accept the LCM from London on or before 31 March, or are you saying that it is still much better in every respect to delay so that, after that date, it could be pursued through legislation here in the North of Ireland?

Ms O'Donnell: Our concern lies in the fact that, as Alison outlined, members are being forced to pay for the discrimination. That is in the Bill, and that is our main concern about it. If that can be addressed by slowing down the process here, that is what we would like to see. As Alison outlined, what we do not want is for this to go ahead and then for legal proceedings to go against it, because that would delay everything even further. There is a very strong feeling among the trade unions, because we went through the process for the 2016 valuations. A lot of the scheme advisory boards, including that of the teachers, had come to an agreement on the outcome and the benefit for members. Remember, that was following the 2015 change. It was the outworking of that. Everybody was following that. This was not something that people were getting as a bonus for some other reason. We were following that, and then it was paused because of a legal case being taken against the Treasury. Those are the issues that we have. We want to try to ensure that, this time round, it is done properly and that we do not get into a never-ending spiral of legal cases.

Mr McHugh: Thank you for your answers.

Mr Wells: You raised a fascinating point about the subordinate documents that arise as result of an LCM. We have dutifully passed LCMs here for many years, and no one, as far as I am aware, has raised this point: what happens to the technical documents that appear? It is a pity; had I known that, I would have asked a member of the Research and Information Service (RaISe) who is the font of all knowledge on these issues. It is worth the Committee checking what happens to the plethora of technical documents that will undoubtedly arise.

Do you accept that members of our generation — apart from Matthew and Keith, who are quite young — are very privileged to be members of final salary pension schemes? I assume that, like me, the members of the delegation are all over 50. I am well over 50. There are no writs flying, I can see. Do you think that our generation is incredibly fortunate, in that we have access to very generous final salary schemes? Those coming behind us will certainly not be able to avail themselves of such schemes, because it is absolutely unaffordable to have them. Is it therefore not a bit rich of us — I mean "us" generally — to inflict huge debt on our children and grandchildren to ensure that employees do not pay for McCloud? Is that fair?

Ms O'Donnell: The scheme has already changed, because people are in the career-average scheme. The actuaries on the scheme advisory board, certainly the teachers' one, have demonstrated to us that the outworkings of the pension in the career-average scheme between 2015 and 2022 will potentially be more beneficial than the final salary scheme. I find it hard to get my head around that in some ways, but they gave examples of it. That scheme is already in place, and that was all part of the 2015 order for Northern Ireland. Where we are now, however, is that, having gone through all of that and still being in it, we are still being asked to pay for this. It goes back to the point that Alison made about the employer being responsible for the discrimination, not the employees who were discriminated against. It seems incredible that that is the outcome. It is certainly not what we expected when the McCloud/Sargeant cases were taken, with the outworking of them being that employees would end up paying for the discrimination.

Mr Wells: Yes, but we need to put it in context. There has been an estimate. We do not know, however. We can only guess as to what the overall cost will be, but it has been suggested that it could cost £97 million to undo the discrimination in McCloud. Interestingly enough, in the figures that we have here, for health and social care, that is only 2·1% of the total pensionable pay for the period from 2019 to 2023. Again, of course, this is all an extrapolation. Is it therefore not reasonable that those who will benefit from the McCloud decision make some form of contribution towards it? Secondly — I suppose that I should have asked this first — do you accept that we simply could not go on the way we were going? Hutton indicated that, if we did, public-sector pensions would rise by £79 billion. Do you accept that that simply could not be allowed to happen?

Mr Lowry: We have to distinguish between what is a public-sector pension when somebody retires at 65 or 67 — possibly 68 in the future under Hutton — and some of the reforms for occupational pensions. This is an occupational pension. The United Kingdom generally sits within the lowest quartile of European countries, if you add together both its public-sector pension contributions and the state pension. Some of the countries in Scandinavia are in the upper quartile, and they obviously put more investment into their public-sector pensions. In one sense, where you are making the point, it probably relates to Lord Hutton and the reforms that were done over 10 years ago, which recognised that people were living longer. To pay for that, pension age had to rise, so, for women, it changed from 60 to 65, and there are proposals to move it to 66. For occupational health public pension schemes, the reality of the situation for us is that they are effectively deferred wages that are put in by our members, who, in the health service, pay a contribution according to what they earn, and they are looking for that money to be invested and available to be paid back further down the line. Hopefully, in 40 years, people then come out with a reasonable pension.

Given that our members are mostly female, gold-plated pensions are very much a myth. The average pension is around £7,000, or less, because most of our members will have been on maternity leave or have taken career breaks. I will not go into specific areas, but it is very challenging. As guardians of public-sector investment in Northern Ireland, the Committee must scrutinise to determine whether it is getting value for money. We respect that the Committee has a challenge function to undertake.

Mr Wells: Your basic tenet is that the pension member should not pay. It therefore should be the state.

Mr Lowry: No. This is specifically about the McCloud payment. The Treasury should reasonably have foreseen the discrimination during the 2015 pension reforms, but that did not happen. It took a court to make a decision. When that court made that judgement, the Government then said, "Your members must pay for HM Treasury and the Government's decision". That is unreasonable.

Mr Wells: Are you saying that the pension member should not pay? That means that the taxpayer has to pay. Is that what you are saying? The money cannot be invented, as it has to come from somewhere. What you are saying is that future generations, who will be in a much less lucrative pension scheme than us, should pay to ensure that we have a higher than expected pension level.

Ms O'Donnell: There is an issue that the outworkings of Hutton was the cost-cap mechanism. The 2016 valuations showed a breach of the floor. They gave benefits to members, and those are being wiped out by McCloud. As I have said, the increases in pension contributions etc were all put in place, and the outworking of that was that members had to get a benefit back from that. If that had been progressing, there would not be an issue, because, according to Hutton, people were contributing to their pensions as a result of how everything was set up under the 2015 order that came out of the 2014 Act in the UK.

It was the outworkings that were giving benefits to the members. If that scheme had therefore been allowed to work its way out, benefits would have been given to members, and there would not be an issue. The issue has arisen because of the discrimination. Members should not have to pay, and that includes any member who was in the scheme between 2015 and 2022, as well as younger members, because anyone who started in and around that time will be part of the scheme as well. That is the crux of the issue.

I mentioned the consultation that is taking place on the cost cap. The Government are looking to change the cost cap, as it demonstrates that the pension schemes are not in deficit and that members are paying enough. Hutton said that they were not paying enough, but they were and are paying enough. The Government are now trying to change the cost cap to ensure that members pay more. There are a load of issues that need to be scrutinised very carefully. We must ensure that we do not have a situation in which public-sector workers get less of a pension than they should, because that will have an impact on the economy as well.

Mr Wells: Thank you.

Mr O'Toole: I thank all three of you for your evidence. It is much appreciated. The UK Bill is now with the House of Lords. The concern is not about the UK legislating but about the principle of the cost being borne by the pension fund. Fundamentally, the upshot of your asking for the Assembly to legislate is that the Executive will have to bear the cost.

Have you done any work on that? It is impossible to know, as Jim has said, because we do not know what decisions will be made.

By the way, Chair, I declare an interest, in that I am a member of the UK Civil Service pension scheme, for my sins.

Have any estimates been done of what the additional cost would be, if we were to legislate here? We will be asked that question, and we will have to answer it.

Ms Millar: It is estimated at about £17 billion. Is that right?

Mr Lowry: It is £17 billion across the UK, Mr O'Toole.

Ms O'Donnell: Sorry. You asked for it in a Northern Ireland context.

Mr Lowry: We have not been given a figure for Northern Ireland. I suppose that that was one of the issues and questions that we had for you, which was to ask whether your adviser had provided you with that information. Unfortunately, we were outside in the hall, and, because of COVID restrictions, we could not get into the Public Gallery to listen to that part of the session. We heard only small excerpts from the TV.

Ms Millar: Chair, is it possible to come back on that? This is an issue where, from our point of view, it does not matter what the cost is. I anticipate that, as you are legislators, it is something that is of concern to the Finance Committee and the Assembly. There is nothing, however, to prevent the Assembly and the Executive going to Treasury and seeking that additional money, whatever it might be, because of the discriminatory element of the pensions. I am quite sure that that is something that will arise out of any potential legal proceedings. As I have said, a large amount of money has been expended on legal cases on the issue. We want to get the issue resolved. We do not want to be in a position of having to lodge legal proceedings. If, however, that is the route that we have to take to protect our members, it is, unfortunately, what we will have to do.

My understanding is that that is already in process, because the UK unions and the legislation there are slightly ahead of us. We are therefore aware that that is already in process. Already, there are legal proceedings seeking to prevent the Westminster Bill proceeding. If legal proceedings were therefore to be lodged in Northern Ireland —.

Mr O'Toole: By legal proceedings, you mean the legal proceedings in London to prevent the Bill by GB unions, including the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)?

Ms Millar: I understand that all the Civil Service unions, including the FBU, already have proceedings in place, because this is so fundamental to the benefits of public-sector employees, who were promised, "If you pay more for your pension, this is what the outcome will be". Here we are. This was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime change, and it was guaranteed for 25 years. You will have heard all of this, and here we are, five years later. Those commitments were thrown in the bin.

We have no fundamental objection to the issue of a legislative consent motion to address McCloud. It is the method used. That can only lead to the Assembly having to lay its own legislation and coming up with a different method to remedy McCloud, which would not be that members pay.

Mr O'Toole: I will come on to that in a second, but I have more questions on the bit about GB unions taking legal action. Could Northern Ireland unions join that, in a kind of class action, or would legal proceedings have to be undertaken here? If the UK Government are legislating, and we are doing an LCM, would legal proceedings have to be undertaken here?

Ms O'Donnell: I think that they would have to be done here. We will check that. They would have to be here, because the legislation would be going through the Assembly, so here is where we would need to challenge it. That is my understanding.

Ms Millar: It would be for the courts to decide whether they would stay the proceedings to await the outcome.

Mr O'Toole: What has the Department of Finance said to you? Presumably, it has told you why its preference is to do an LCM.

Ms O'Donnell: Speed.

Ms Millar: It really is.

Mr Lowry: Yes. It is speed.

Ms Millar: Primarily speed, and funding is obviously part of that. The Assembly and the Executive, of their own volition, can say that, for these specific reasons, they do not want to further disadvantage scheme members on an issue that was discriminatory and potentially face legal proceedings, which bring their own costs. On balance, the best way in which to proceed with this is to introduce our own legislation, which would, of itself, lead to the Executive needing to seek additional funding from the Treasury for its discrimination.

Mr O'Toole: Has the Department of Finance not yet covered that point with you on the record? It has not said to you, "We are not going to do that" or "We do not want to do that". Has it said that, if the UK legislation goes through and we decide to do our own discrete legislation here, but then say that we are going to petition the Treasury to cover the cost, it is going to say, "No chance"? The Department has not said that to you yet, but is that probably what it thinks?

Ms Millar: The Department is in after us, so —.

Mr O'Toole: You are right. We will ask it.

Ms Millar: That is a matter for the Department.

Mr O'Toole: You mentioned the timing. From your perspective, Alison, it was better to get it right than get it rushed through by the start of the next financial year. Some of those pension holders may now be retired. As you said, one or two of the people who were directly affected have now, sadly, passed away. Presumably, there are not large numbers of those pension holders, because they are not that old yet. Are the policyholders generally supportive of leaving it so that the cost is borne by government rather than by the employer? That is quite a long-winded question, but do you know what I mean?

Ms O'Donnell: I think that I know what you are saying. If there is a possibility of the outcome being positive about members not paying for the discrimination, it is worth the delay. At the end of the day, the outcome of McCloud has to be implemented. They are therefore still going to get that choice, whenever it comes. Potentially, for the 2016 valuations, some of those who are retiring will benefit from the better accrual rates, if those were not being used to offset McCloud. There is a potential further benefit for those people. As Alison has said, we have to look at the best options for our members. That is the context in which we are looking at it

Mr O'Toole: This is complicated and actuarial when you drill down into it. I will summarise from a helicopter view, just to see whether I have got this correct. Dessie, you made the point that the broader UK Government pension reforms, which have mostly been enacted in Northern Ireland since 2010, and largely from the Hutton review in 2011, have been to the disadvantage, broadly speaking, of newer policyholders, of which I am one, by the way, from an earlier part of my career. They have not been to the advantage of public servants or civil servants here or in Britain. The McCloud judgement pointed to one specific unfairness that was found to be unlawful: a bit of age discrimination. It proposed a remedy at around the same time, or a year or two before, the new valuation created a potentially small but significant benefit to the same cohort of pensioners. The issue is that the small potential benefit from the 2016 revaluation is going to be wiped out by the proposed remedy to McCloud.

Effectively, although it looks as if some people will be even-stevens when you even out the McCloud remedy proposed in the 2016 judgement, you are saying that, in the context of it being fairly bad for those pension holders who are losing out in the broader picture, you are trying to protect the —.

Mr Lowry: May I add one point here, Chairman? Under the McCloud judgement, the deferred-choice underpin will give individual pensioners an opportunity to say at the end, when they retire, whether they were better in the scheme during the protected period or they are better in this scheme. They will have a financial choice to make, and the one thing that we have not touched on was the question of who pays for that financial advice. Millions across the UK will have to find a financial person who is authorised by the Financial Standards Authority to give independent advice. That question was asked at Second Reading during the Bill's passage through the House of Lords, but there has been no response yet. You may want to put that to the departmental officials, because, as we said, this remedy was unlawful discrimination from which our members should not be suffering detriment. When they come to retire, they will therefore need independent financial advice about which choice is best for them. Given the fiasco many years ago, we do not give financial advice within trade unions. We are very clear about that, so individuals who choose that option will have to seek independent financial advice. The question of who will pay for that is one for the departmental officials.

Mr O'Toole: Is it in law that they have to have a financial adviser?

Ms Millar: No.

Mr O'Toole: It is not, so is it that it would just be sensible to do so?

Mr Lowry: It is by choice, yes.

Mr O'Toole: It would be a sensible thing to do.

Mr Lowry: They recommend it.

Mr O'Toole: Thank you. The summary that I gave was therefore relatively accurate. It was not intended to be a leading question. Rather, it was just to summarise for my benefit.

Mr Catney: I had another question, but Matthew covered it. I will come in while the union representatives are here. If the LCM were not passed by the Assembly, and legislation were then brought in by the Minister, what changes would the unions like to see to try to mitigate the discrimination that was no doubt practised against your members?

Ms Millar: That goes back to the issue that a new remedy would need to be found that does not ask members to pay for the discrimination. That would be in the form of an amendment to the Westminster legislation. The Westminster legislation as it stands would need to be significantly revised, because it all leads back to the fact that members will be asked to pay. New primary legislation, which would take a bit of time to put together, would be needed.

Mr Catney: OK. That is it, Chair.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): No other members have indicated that they have questions. Thank you very much, Alison, Dessie and Nuala. All the best.

Ms Millar: Chair, may I just clarify the position on what we asked about the technical issues? Can that information be forwarded to us? Furthermore, so that I am clear on the timescale, does the Committee have to write up its report within five days from today?

The Committee Clerk: Standing Orders state that it is 15 working days from the legislative consent memorandum being laid, but the Department is usually flexible. It will want to make sure that the Committee is happy, so, if it wants to take a little bit longer, that should be all right. Members can ask the Department that when they come in next.

Ms Millar: It is just a question of when the Bill is likely to come in front of the Assembly, because we will want to make some representations outside of the Committee.

The Committee Clerk: It will be for the Minister to ask the Business Committee to schedule it. He will probably wait for the Committee to report, which might be in early October.

To clarify, when you talk about technical guidance, are you talking about the statutory rules associated with the Bill and asking whether they come to the Assembly or to Westminster? Is that what you are saying?

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): All the technical guidance that you referred to earlier happens at Westminster —

Ms Millar: Yes.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): — and we follow suit here. The question therefore is this: if there is technical guidance in Westminster, does it apply here?

Ms Millar: Yes.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): Whatever that technical guidance may be.

Ms Millar: I think that it is under Standing Order 42A. We are not clear —.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): The question is this: if it changes there, does that automatically mean that, after an LCM —.

Ms Millar: You therefore never get the opportunity, as a Committee, to consider that.

The Committee Clerk: Ask the Department, Chair.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): Hopefully, we will get clarity on that. That is fair enough.

Ms Millar: Thank you.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr K Buchanan): OK. Thanks again for coming in. I appreciate your time.

Ms Millar: Thank you.

Ms O'Donnell: Thank you.

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