|Sitting||Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|9th March (9.30 a.m.)||Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule 1, Clauses 4 to 11, Schedule 2, Clauses 12 to 60, Schedule 3, Clauses 61 to 76, Schedule 4 and Clauses 77 to 80.||—|
|9th March (2.30 p.m.)||Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule 1, Clauses 4 to 11, Schedule 2, Clauses 12 to 60, Schedule 3, Clauses 61 to 76, Schedule 4 and Clauses 77 to 80 (so far as not previously concluded).||—|
|11th March (9.30 a.m.)||Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule 1, Clauses 4 to 11, Schedule 2, Clauses 12 to 60, Schedule 3, Clauses 61 to 76, Schedule 4 and Clauses 77 to 80 (so far as not previously concluded).||—|
|11th March (2.00 p.m.)||Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule 1, Clauses 4 to 11, Schedule 2, Clauses 12 to 60, Schedule 3, Clauses 61 to 76, Schedule 4 and Clauses 77 to 80 (so far as not previously concluded).||—|
|16th March (9.30 a.m.)||—|
|16th March (2.30 p.m.)||8.00 p.m.|
|18th March (9.30 a.m.)||Clauses 220 and 221, Schedule 10, Clauses 222 and 223, Clauses 191 to 193, Schedule 9 and Clauses 194 and 195.||—|
|18th March (2.00 p.m.)||Clauses 220 and 221, Schedule 10, Clauses 222 and 223, Clauses 191 to 193, Schedule 9 and Clauses 194 and 195 (so far as not previously concluded).||5.00 p.m.|
|23rd March (9.30 a.m.)||Clauses 81 to 83, Schedule 5, Clauses 84 to 123, Schedule 6, Clause 124, Schedule 7, Clauses 125 to 162, Schedule 8 and Clauses 163 to 177.||—|
|23rd March (2.30 p.m.)||Clauses 81 to 83, Schedule 5, Clauses 84 to 123, Schedule 6, Clause 124, Schedule 7, Clauses 125 to 162, Schedule 8 and Clauses 163 to 177 (so far as not previously concluded).||—|
|25th March (9.30 a.m.)||Clauses 81 to 83, Schedule 5, Clauses 84 to 123, Schedule 6, Clause 124, Schedule 7, Clauses 125 to 162, Schedule 8 and Clauses 163 to 177 (so far as not previously concluded).||—|
|25th March (2.00 p.m.)||Clauses 81 to 83, Schedule 5, Clauses 84 to 123, Schedule 6, Clause 124, Schedule 7, Clauses 125 to 162, Schedule 8 and Clauses 163 to 177 (so far as not previously concluded).||—|
|30th March (9.30 a.m.)||—|
|30th March (2.30 p.m.)||—|
|1st April (9.30 a.m.)||11.25 a.m.|
|1st April (2.00 p.m.)||Clauses 178 to 190.||5.00 p.m.|
|20th April (9.30 a.m.)||Clauses 196 to 219.||—|
|20th April (2.30 p.m.)||Clauses 196 to 219 (so far as not previously concluded).||8.00 p.m.|
|22nd April (9.30 a.m.)||Clauses 224 to 242, Schedule 11, Clause 243, Schedule 12, Clauses 244 to 248.||11.25 a.m.|
|22nd April (2.00 p.m.)||New Clauses, New Schedules and remaining proceedings on the Bill.||5.00 p.m.|
Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 9th March 2004.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. We know from your reputation that you expedite proceedings in a brisk and businesslike way. Not having discussed a Bill in Committee since the Learning and Skills Bill, I know that there is nothing quite as exciting as the start of Committee proceedings, except the end of them. However, that will happen in some weeks' time and we shall be gathered together for much of March and April—apart from the Easter break—to consider what we regard as an important Bill. We are honoured that
not only you, Mr. Griffiths, but Mr. Cran, our other Chairman, will provide distinguished leadership.
I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) for their co-operation in putting together the programme motion and the Whips for arranging business through the usual channels. We recommend that the Committee sits on Tuesdays at 9.30 am and 2.30 pm, and on Thursdays at 9.30 am and 2 pm, beginning today and ending on 22 April. We shall, of course, break for the Easter recess, although we shall not do so until Thursday 1 April. The fact that we are sitting on that day makes fools of us in parliamentary terms, but at least we shall be diligent ones before the Easter recess.
On Tuesday 16 March and 20 April, our sittings will be extended until 8 pm if we need additional time to continue our debates. I welcome honourable colleagues, on both sides, to the Committee, several of whom spoke when we discussed the Bill on Second Reading. They will all have great interest in our proceedings in the coming weeks. I am sure that matters will be debated vigorously on all sides of the Committee.
The Bill is long and complex, but I am sure that members of the Committee have the stamina and expertise to give it thorough scrutiny. We have had discussions to the effect that the proposed order of consideration may be amended. It has been suggested that six sittings on the pensions regulator may be one or so too many and we have agreed through the usual channels to consider that at the end of the week, depending on how we proceed today and on Thursday. I certainly look forward to the challenge of considering the Bill with colleagues.
My Parliamentary Private Secretary says that it may or may not be the first time that the three principal spokesmen have names beginning with ''W''. He suggested that Waterson, Webb and Wicks sound like a firm of Croydon undertakers. I just hope that his jokes improve as we proceed.
We have two slight problems with the sittings motion. First, by the end of our discussions in Committee, the shape of the Bill might be different from what it is now—a point to which I shall return. Secondly, as the Minister rightly said, there is a feeling that the Programming Sub-Committee formally, or informally, should have another look at things by the end of the week. I endorse wholeheartedly the view that six full sittings on the regulator is over-egging the
pudding, but other parts of the Bill, as it stands, could benefit from a little more scrutiny. In our usual spirit of helpfulness and co-operation, the official Opposition are trying to ensure that every important part of the Bill has the chance of proper scrutiny.
I use the words ''as it stands'' carefully. We know that the Government will substantially amend the Bill in Committee, and I make no pretence that the Opposition will win any votes—unless we provoke the odd rebellion. By last Friday, 97 Government amendments had already been tabled, and I am happy to concede that they all seem minor. However, on Second Reading, the Secretary of State made it clear in the face of a lot of criticism from us and the industry that parts of the Bill had not been ready by Second Reading.
All Governments have their difficulties with parliamentary draftsmen, who tend to march to the beat of their own drum rather than that of their temporary political master, but there is a problem here. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State made it clear that the Government would be tabling amendments in several areas. He talked about tax simplification measures, which we think are important and useful; the vesting issue for short-term workers, which is also important; the ending of the requirement to offer additional voluntary contributions; and changes to section 67 of the Pensions Act 1995, for which we have long been pressing, to allow the rationalisation of accrued rights. Those are big issues because business organisations, such as the CBI and the Engineering Employers Federation, are already making noises about their concerns about proposals for automatic consultation of trade union representatives and others. They and we are, of course, in no position to comment until we see the amendments and new clauses.
Today, I want to extract from the Minister two eminently reasonable undertakings. One is that, to the extent that it is within his power and that of the usual channels, we see the amendments and new clauses sooner rather than later. That is not just for the Committee's convenience, although we do need at least two clear days to debate any amendments selected; it is sensible from the Government's and the Committee's point of view that we have the chance to ask all the outside bodies and organisations who take a close and proper interest in the Bill for their comments, concerns and support, if appropriate, in relation to the new rafts of amendments. I am sure that the Minister will be able to give that undertaking, subject to the caveat that I have inserted.
Secondly, I want the Minister's undertaking that there will be no other significant topics, other than those that I have reviewed in the Secretary of State's speech, which the Minister will flag up or the Government are likely to try to include in the Bill at Committee stage. Such an undertaking would help the Committee as well as you, Mr. Griffiths, and your co-Chairman.
We quite understand that the Government are not following strictly the printed order of the Bill. The large part of the Bill that will take the most time, as well as most of the attention and interest of outside
bodies, is the establishment of the pension protection fund. That takes up a substantial chunk of the Bill, and it is being taken out of order and considered later, presumably because several amendments, technical or otherwise, will need to be tabled to it. We make a specific plea in relation to that part, precisely because it is at the heart of the Bill, for as early an indication as possible of amendments and new clauses.
I wish to raise two final subsidiary points. During the Second Reading debate, there was an invitation to a possible meeting from the Secretary of State. It may have been summarily withdrawn at one point, but I am sure only in an uncharacteristic fit of pique. The Minister, not being prone to such behaviour, will want to reinstate an invitation along those lines. Regardless of whether it is formal or informal, we are happy to hold a discussion about the shape of the Bill and how we can help the Committee to be sensible and constructive so that we do not leave great chunks of the legislation—particularly the new bits of it—without scrutiny. Within the last 24 hours we have seen that the second Chamber takes its proper role as a revising Chamber very seriously; it is likely to take it even more seriously in the case of Bills that do not receive proper scrutiny due to Government delay in tabling amendments.
My other point is a traditional one that is made by every Opposition spokesman at the beginning of every stage of every Bill, but it applies in spades in the case of this Bill; it is to plead to be shown draft regulations. The Bill appears at first glance—and after subsequent glances—to be large and detailed. However, a lot of detail that is important to the industry and to the organisations that I have mentioned is not in the Bill; it is being left for regulations. I do not seek to make a legalistic point about that. We will sometimes try to make additions to the Bill, as Oppositions always do, rather than leave things to regulations. However, it would be immensely helpful if we could see the draft regulations. The Committee would find things almost impenetrable if we could not see them. That could be a rough draft, but it would assist greatly if we were shown a version of a draft, especially if it were produced in good time for the discussion of the part of the Bill that it addresses.
The Committee's proceedings would get off to a very constructive start if the Minister were forthcoming with regard to the undertakings that I am seeking.
If we continue in the spirit in which we have begun, I hope that we can get through this matter in less than half an hour and get on with dealing with the Bill. On behalf of the Liberal Democrats and the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) we welcome you, Mr. Griffiths, and your colleague, Mr. Cran, to the Chair. We look forward to serving under you.
Our approach to the Bill will be constructive. The Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties supported the principle of the Bill on Second Reading. That signals that we will be positive in Committee. We want to make pension protection
effective, in keeping with the discussions on Second Reading.
We share with the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) some concerns about the balance of this schedule for debate. The sections on the regulator will be less controversial than the pension protection fund and, as we discussed in the Programming Sub-Committee, the discussion of the scheme-specific funding proposals will be of profound importance to the schemes. Those who are responsible for managing perhaps £1 thousand billion of the nation's assets might feel that more than a couple of hours of discussion of how much they must have in their pension funds can probably be justified.
Labour Members have shown flexibility on some of the timing issues that we discussed last night, and I hope that we can also have a bit more flexibility on the scheduling issues as we work our way through things. We welcome the assurance that at the end of this week we will see how far we have got and possibly revisit those issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) and the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr have taken a keen constituency interest in these issues. All Committee members speak for their constituents, but we are also here to try to create a system of pension protection that will end some of the scandals of the past.
We have got off to a useful start, except for a slip of the tongue on my part; I suggested that the hon. Member for Eastbourne represented the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North instead of that seaside resort. I had a useful meeting with older people in my hon. Friend's Northampton constituency and what they had to tell me about pension strategy was still fresh in my mind. I apologise for that error.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions suggested on Second Reading that we would introduce amendments to several areas of the Bill. The Committee has already seen some of them. Committee members will have noted that many of them are technical or drafting corrections, often intended to ensure internal consistency and coherence. However, we still plan to table some more significant amendments in due course, covering new topics such as the requirement for employers to undertake consultation when they make major changes to pension schemes. We will bring them forward as soon as we are able. We are keen to do what we can to facilitate adequate scrutiny of the Bill, and we will do our best on timing.
On the subject of flexibility, I should say that the Programming Sub-Committee had a useful meeting last night. We should continue in that spirit and ensure that those aspects of the Bill of concern to Committee members get proper scrutiny. I have already undertaken to consider whether we have the balance right between time for the regulator and time for the other aspects of the Bill.
First, on the consultation proposals for trade unions and others, is there an intention to consult with bodies such as the CBI on that?
Secondly, there has been a lot of lobbying—I think that we have all had a lot of that—in favour of extending the Bill to cover defined benefit schemes. However, that should also have a more detailed relevance to defined contribution schemes. Will the Minister table amendments on that subject? It was not flagged up by the Secretary of State. I am grateful for the general undertaking on timing.
On the consultation issues, we are in agreement in principle and we will table amendments. However, I have no doubt that without initiating a formal consultation procedure, we would want to discuss with all interested parties—employers, trade unions and others—how to ensure that that sort of consultation was meaningful. I give that undertaking.
Much of the Bill is about final salary schemes or defined benefit schemes; the protection fund is the obvious example. However, other aspects of our proposals on regulation have equal meaning, or some meaning, for defined contribution schemes. We shall come to that, although there is no plan at present to define specific amendments on defined contribution schemes.
If the Secretary of State's undertaking to meet the hon. Members for Havant (Mr. Willetts) and for Northavon still stands, a letter or some form of communication on that will be with Committee members very shortly.
Question put and agreed to.
I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution and a ways and means resolution in connection with the Bill. Copies of those resolutions are available in the Room. I also remind Committee members that adequate notice of amendments should be given, and that, as a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments, including those reached during an afternoon sitting.Clause 1 The Pensions Regulator