Clause 16 - Retirement pension income

State Pension Credit Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 23rd April 2002.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

We now come to the narrower concept of retirement pension income. I appreciate the Under-Secretary's elucidation of the wider concepts of income in clause 15. I am content with her approach, which is to specify the heads for income, including, if necessary, a get-out clause to deal with anything that we have not thought of, or abuses of the system. It is more comfortable for pensioners to be able to carry out a mental checklist and say, ''I have none of the above,'' than to be caught out. As I conceded earlier, it is right that there should be a fallback provision, as set out in subsection (2), which is that amendments may be made

by regulation to subsection (1) to add or vary something, or to delete anything that no longer seems appropriate. The Committee heard examples of the complexities even of retirement income in our exchanges on annuities, and I shall not repeat them.

As I shall say when we come to clause 17, the inference to be drawn from clauses 16 and 17, and from clause 19, which gives the details of regulations, is that the regulations will be made by negative resolution. That may be appropriate, but given the complexities—such as the fact that some people may be stakeholders, and the different kinds of income that may fall within the measure—can Ministers assure us that they will usually carry out consultations before introducing such regulations? A possible exception to consultation would be the discovery of a clear abuse that is escalating fast; for example, if someone finds a scheme that he then markets and people take it up at an inordinate rate. In such circumstances, Ministers may wish to regulate first and consult afterwards to stop the loss of revenue and the abuse of the system. Subject only to that reservation, there is everything to be gained by Ministers taking a considered view and consulting experts and interested parties if they need to redefine the heads under which retirement income is established. I hope that they will bear that in mind and give us the assurances that we want.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions

I shall not speak for long on the clause, which is best described as a sort of subsection of clause 15. It was drafted as a separate clause to give a better structure to the Bill and to make it more manageable.

I gave a long list of details about the income relevant to guarantee calculation in clause 15 and earlier clauses, and on what will be treated as income, or treated as income and ignored. Details of qualifying income were also stated. There is no need for further debate about some of the issues, because although they impact on this clause, they were discussed by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on clause 15.

Clause 16 is a belt-and-braces clause, which defines what we mean by retirement pension income. The definition covers both state and private pension provision and is an important link to clauses 6 and 10. We discussed in detail that family of clauses and their interrelationship.

In general, pensioners, especially those aged 65 and over, have a settled and regular retirement pension income that is not subject to frequent changes. Therefore, there is little point in constantly asking them about changes to that income, as such questions are intrusive and may be demeaning. We debated the subject at length, with gusto, during an earlier sitting; we also discussed the idea of pensioners not having to report changes in their income for up to five years.

The clause underpins our commitment to fixed assessments. Pensioners will not usually need to report, which makes transparent the operation of the pension credit and the assessed income period. The clause includes powers to add to, vary or remove descriptions in the list of requirements for pension

income. The list is flexible, to allow it to be amended and to remain relevant. The pension industry may come up with new products that are not yet defined, but that would benefit us in the process of assessing pension income. It is therefore important to keep that flexibility.

As for consultation, we are required to consult the Social Security Advisory Committee, but we would do so in any event. The hon. Member for Daventry reasonably asked if there would be a fuller firmer process outside that consultation. Rather than give a disingenuous reply, I shall say no. However, that does not mean a diminution of our commitment to consultation, as stakeholder groups have been established alongside pensioners organisations to consult on the implementation strategy. Regulations are, of course, critical to that strategy. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will consult as fully as we can.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.