Clause 40 - Scheme returns: supplementary

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 11th March 2004.

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

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions

The purpose of the clause is to make clear the duties of the regulator, trustees and managers in respect of scheme returns. As such, the clause has effect for the purposes of clauses 38 and 39 that have both been agreed, and specifies the meaning of such important technicalities as ''return date'' and ''scheme return''. It is straightforward.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have only one query for the Minister about what, as he said, is an otherwise fairly straightforward clause. Subsection (4)(a) states:

''A scheme return notice in respect of a registrable scheme . . . must require all registrable information in relation to the scheme''.

That is common sense. However, subsection (4)(b) states that the notice

''may require other information which the Regulator reasonably requires for the purposes of the exercise of its functions in relation to the scheme.''

In other words, it introduces not a get-out clause, but a wide-ranging power for the regulator to require other information. What is the point of devising a scheme return, consulting the industry about the information that should be on it and making a decision about what information is needed to do the job, but then suddenly deciding that the regulator can ask for any other information which it ''reasonably requires''? Presumably that is the regulator's own definition, provided of course that it was accepted. The provision seems clearly wide-ranging and I should be grateful if the Minister would explain why.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions 3:00 pm, 11th March 2004

In a sense, we discussed earlier what is reasonable information. I gave my assurance then that the regulator will act honourably in relation to such matters. There will be broad parliamentary scrutiny of the regulator's work on an ongoing basis. A scheme return notice issued by the regulator must be in writing and must specify the details of the information that the regulator requires from the scheme. Such information must include all details of the registrable information and any other information required by the regulator to enable it to fulfil its functions. This is not a catch-all; we could not ask for any sort of information, but only anything that it might be sensible to ask for. During the next 10 years or so, who knows how pension schemes might change and what sort of information might need to be captured?

In line with the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force and the National Audit Office report, it is essential for the regulator—I wish it would regulate these notes a bit—to collect and hold up-to-date information on schemes in order to enable it to develop the risk-based approach. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept those assurances.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.