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I note that my hon. Friend suggested that Ministers have a tendency to “promise the earth” on a Friday in the House. That is not a charge usually levelled at Chief Secretaries and I will try to allay his concerns, not least with an eye to the forthcoming comprehensive spending review, in case any other Members have a similar expectation.
My hon. Friend also accused Ministers of having words put in their mouths, just reading out what they are given. I hope I can reassure him that I have written my remarks and that they will reflect my long-standing interest in the issues reflected in his Bill.
The Bill raises a legitimate issue, which is shared across the House, as reflected in the interventions: excess payments for people leaving roles in the public sector often far in excess of what other members of staff in those organisations have earned over many years of service. My hon. Friend, through his Bill, signals his objection. As the Minister charged with overseeing spending, I share his concern. The point at issue is not in dispute for this Government and, in turn, the Government intend to act.
The second issue my hon. Friend raises through his Bill is the amount of time needed to resolve this issue. He is absolutely correct that, in the Conservative manifesto in 2015, we said that we would end taxpayer-funded six-figure payoffs for the best-paid public sector workers. He was also right to highlight and draw the attention of the House to the coverage in The Times newspaper, which has raised a number of recent cases of public servants receiving high-value exit payments. So it is understandable that he has brought the Bill forward, and I thank him for the timely reminder to the House and the Government of the importance of the issue.
My hon. Friend drew the House’s attention to the fact that, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee in the 2010 to 2015 Parliament, I also highlighted the importance of the issue. I hope that that gives him some comfort—along with the remarks I will come on to—as to my commitment as the Minister responsible and as to the Government’s commitment to address the points within the Bill.
I confirm to the House that we intend to publish the response to last year’s consultation this April. I will ensure that legislation is brought forward before the summer recess, providing parliamentary time allows. I will work with fellow members of the Government to ensure that time is found.
I thoroughly agree with the intentions of my hon. Friend, but the Government cannot support the passage of this private Member’s Bill. However, as I say, we will bring forward the consultation and ensure that we move forward at pace. He and I have met to discuss the issue in recent weeks in order to understand and address his specific concerns.
Significant responses to the consultation were received—600 or so—and I assure hon. Members that we have taken considerable effort to go through them in order to ensure that what is brought before the House will reflect the fact that a passage of time has happened, but it is a complex area of regulation, not least in terms of how we capture pension top-ups, for example, within the scope of the cap. There are other issues, such as the additional cost to the employer of allowing an individual access to their pension ahead of the normal pension age; that is the sort of issue that we have been looking at during the time to which my hon. Friend refers.
The issue concerns Members on both sides of the House. I reassure my hon. Friend that—
The debate stood adjourned (
Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday