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.

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Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions 2:30 pm, 11th March 2004

The Opposition amendment would make the register of schemes available to members of the public, although the names of individual trustees and some of the details would be deleted. Hon. Members have heard me say that the register serves a number of purposes, one of which is to provide a pension-tracing service for members of the public who have lost touch with old pension schemes. That service is currently carried out by OPRA in its role as registrar. Last year it successfully provided contact in response to 25,000 requests.

The quinquennial review of OPRA suggested that tracing should be dealt with by central Government. That is what subsection (2) seeks to allow. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the tracing service is a part of the Government's core strategy to inform people about their pension provision and will in future be undertaken by the Department, rather than the new regulator. We will be able to improve the service offered. The points that the hon. Gentleman made about the use of IT, the net, and so on, are well taken. We will try to ensure that that happens.

The reason why we are resisting what seems, at first sight, to be a reasonable amendment—and why I am asking the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing it—is because we are sensitive to human rights issues. Disclosure to the public at large of information on the register could interfere with the right to respect for private and family life. There is also the further consideration that some of the information provided on the register could be regarded as commercial in confidence and could be of value to other companies, which is another reason why we are reluctant to accept the amendment. Restricted information may be disclosed by the regulator only to specific bodies for specific functions, which are detailed later in the Bill. For example, the Inland Revenue is the most obvious body in terms of its regulatory functions; the pensions ombudsman is another.

In asking the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing the amendment, I undertake to reflect on the strong points that he has made and consider whether there is any possibility of wider usage, notwithstanding the difficulties that I have mentioned.