Clause 36 - The register: inspection, provision of information and reports etc

Part of Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 11th March 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury) 2:30 pm, 11th March 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 189, in

clause 36, page 22, line 34, at end insert

'save that the register will be open to members of the public during normal working hours, but with the home addresses of individual scheme trustees deleted.'.

The clause is about who may inspect the information collected on the register from all those schemes. As I understand it, subsection (2) basically leaves it entirely up to the Secretary of State to decide who can inspect the scheme and who will be able to check up on the information. First, I would appreciate it if the Minister clarified who will be able to look at it. Will it just be the regulator's staff? Will it be staff in the Department for Work and Pensions? Will it be staff in the Inland Revenue and other Departments? Will it be other organisations, such as credit rating agencies, because there are certain provisions whereby financial institutions can get hold of information that is not generally available to the public?

That issue leads me on to my amendment, and the question: why should the register not be public? Amendment No. 189 says that

''the register will be open to members of the public during normal working hours, but with the home addresses of individual scheme trustees deleted.''

That last detail is included to protect their privacy. Why should not we be able to see a register of pension schemes in this country? I am sure that the members of such schemes would be interested in some of the information provided on their behalf. That gives rise to the question whether members will be even aware of the returns that are being made to the register on their behalf by schemes. If the register were public, an interested member of the scheme could check up on it and see what state it was in.

We are coming on to discuss some of the whistleblowing provisions, but obviously a large part of the enforcement of pension law depends on whistleblowing. That has been the case with OPRA and it is envisaged that that situation will continue with the new regulator. Whistleblowing depends on someone knowing that there is something wrong. If they cannot view the register, they will not necessarily know that the information provided in it is incorrect. Therefore, I would have thought that an open scheme would help whistleblowing.

That is hardly an unprecedented thing to ask for. After this sitting finishes—if it finishes in time—we could all go to Companies House and look up the details of companies and directors. I believe that the home addresses of directors are also registered there. Certainly, significant details about companies are registered. I am unable to see why the register needs to be, in effect, private, rather than an open register that all members, and all members of the public, could check.

Scheme tracing was the original function of the current registry. I assume that that the scheme-tracing facility remains and will, perhaps, be improved. One of the complaints is that a scheme can be traced only by sending and receiving letters; there is no provision to do so over the telephone or internet. It would be interesting to find out whether there are any plans to improve that. However, that is secondary to my principal point. Why will the register not be open to members of the public and members of schemes?