Nigel Waterson (Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions; Eastbourne, Conservative)
Thank you, Sir Nicholas, you can tell how eager I am to get stuck into yet another Pensions Bill.
May I speak briefly on some of the issues raised both on the main motion and the amendment? We will not be dividing; we support both the motion as it stands and the amendment. Had it not been for the amendment, the Pensions Policy Institute would have had to distil all its wisdom and expertise into a 15-minute session—it would have been famous for 15 minutes, as the phrase goes—which did not strike us as very satisfactory.
Pensions Bills are becoming an annual event under this Government and so far as it goes, we welcome the latest one. I welcome all the hon. Members to the Committee—volunteers and pressed men both—and particularly my colleagues who have volunteered to help in our deliberations. Evidence sessions on any view are going to move at a brisk pace, if not in something of a blur. A whole week of oral evidence sounds generous, but one can gauge from the number of organisations that have been clamouring for the opportunity to give evidence just how much interest the Bill excites.
I have said what I needed to say on the amendment—it seems perfectly sensible. I was pleased to hear what the Minister said, both now and in writing, about amendments. We are, of course, particularly interested to see the Government’s amendments on the financial assistance scheme and on giving full compensation to people who have lost their pensions, or much of their pensions. No doubt there will be the usual flurry of excitement as the Bill continues, about whether draft regulations can catch up with the actual clause under which they are to be introduced. I know Ministers always start off with the best of intentions but those matters are not always completely in their control. Obviously it would be helpful, given that many of the important issues in the Bill are left to regulation, if those regulations were in front of us during the relevant debates. I am sure that the Ministers will do their level best—likewise with their amendments.
I apologise that, despite the opportunity—I do not think that there is the obligation—under the rules, most of my amendments so far do not have an explanatory memorandum attached. I drafted them over Christmas, so it was a choice between Christmas and explanatory memorandums and Christmas won. I have checked with the clerks; one has to table the explanatory notes at the same time as the amendments so apparently there is no opportunity to put them in later, which we would be perfectly happy to do. Members may also have noticed that the more recent amendments—I hope future ones—all have attached some attempt to explain what they are about. We of course do not have the resources that are at the disposal of Ministers. We look forward to seeing their amendments and their explanatory notes.
It is a great pleasure, Sir Nicholas, to serve under your Chairmanship and that of Mrs. Anderson. I am sure that we will have a thoroughly enjoyable few weeks—particularly the half-term. Many of, but not all, the issues in the Bill are based on the Turner settlement and an element of consensus between the major parties, but there are some big issues, and some issues on which we and the Government still disagree. But I hope that we can, as they say, disagree without being disagreeable.