Pensions Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 16th March 2004.

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[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Order of the Committee of 9th March 2004 be amended by the substitution of the following Table for the Table referred to in paragraphs (2), (3) and (4) of that Order—

TABLE

—[Malcolm Wicks.]

SittingProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
16th March (9.30 a.m.)Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule 1, 11.25 a.m.
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 (2.30 p.m.)Clauses 220 and 221, Schedule 10, Clauses 222 and 223, Clauses 191 to 193, Schedule 9 and Clauses 194 and 195.
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 (so far as not previously concluded).11.25 a.m.
18th March (2.00 p.m.)Clauses 196 to 219 and Clauses 178 to 190
23rd March (9.30 a.m.)Clauses 196 to 219 and Clauses 178 to 190 (so far as not previously concluded).
23rd March (2.30 p.m.)Clauses 196 to 219 and Clauses 178 to 190 (so far as not previously concluded)8.00 p.m.
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.
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.)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 (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).
1st April (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).
1st April (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).
20th April (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).
20th April (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).8.00 p.m.
22nd April (9.30 a.m.)Clauses 224 to 242, Schedule 11, Clause 243, Schedule 12, Clauses 224 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.

—[Malcolm Wicks.]

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con): I do not want to detain the Committee long on this motion, because we have a lot to say about the business that is guillotined to finish by the end of this morning's sitting. However, here we are again—barely a week into the Committee stage—with a change in the batting order. Although I declared an interest on Second Reading, it may be advisable to do so again now, because I have private pension provision. We consented to the revised programme motion, not least because if we had not done so, the Government would have passed it anyway.

Our discussion on the motion gives me the opportunity to put down a couple of markers about the future conduct of our proceedings now and on Report. The Government have been open about the fact that they intend to table a substantial number of amendments on a range of issues. We have already discussed many Government amendments, but they were concerned with minor drafting matters and polishing up the Bill. We are now awaiting Government amendments affecting some meaty issues, some of which are related to tomorrow's Budget. There seems to be difficulty in attaining consistency between the regulator's powers and functions and the proposed pension protection fund, although that should have been thought through before the Bill was published.

I think that the Minister accepts my concerns about such matters. For example, we have allowed the traditional one sitting to deal with new clauses at the end of our proceedings in Committee, but if the Government have tabled a raft of new clauses they may be in difficulty. If they decide to extend the duration of the Committee stage, we would like to know about that sooner than later—and I also make an urgent plea about the amendments. We understand that big issues are involved, and the Government should make their amendments public before we debate them in Committee not only for our sake, although that would be nice, but for the outside

 

organisations and individuals that often have a legitimate interest in our consideration of the Bill, and may wish to have their thoughts about proposed new parts of it transmitted through us.

It is important to receive a clear undertaking from the Minister that the Government are on top of the draftsmen day and night, to ensure that we do not get into major difficulties. I am talking not only about the Bill getting into difficulties, but about the burdens and problems that that causes for the Opposition and for outside organisations. Unless we receive early information about what amendments will be tabled, I cannot emphasise too much the fact that potential problems lie ahead.

Let us not lose sight of the draft regulations, either. Great tranches of the Bill rely heavily on regulations, and it would be meaningless to debate them until we have sight of them. We have not yet seen even one draft regulation; I imagine that the available manpower is too busy working on the amendments. I shall leave it there for the moment, Mr. Griffiths. I am sure that you appreciate that we shall face difficulties if the problem is not rectified.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): Good morning, Mr. Griffiths. I was not aware of last night's meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee—the necessary card did not reach me—so I apologise for not making my observations then, when it might have slightly more constructive to do so. My only worry about amending the programme motion is that the only times when our mental energies will be devoted to state pensions will be this afternoon and Thursday morning. The rest of the Bill is principally about private sector regulation and the pension protection fund, which is all about private sector provision.

At the end of our consideration, however, the new clauses selected for debate—new clause 5 on married women's pensions and new clause 6 on overseas pensions—are to be discussed at the final Thursday afternoon sitting after Easter. Had I attended the meeting last night, I would have asked whether it would have made more sense to deal with all state pension issues in one go. We could then have left those mentally, and dealt with private pension issues for the rest of our deliberations, rather than discussing state pensions today and on Thursday, doing nothing on them for a month, and suddenly discussing them again at the fag-end sitting on the final Thursday afternoon, which may get swamped with Government new clauses anyway. We may not even debate those new clauses at all. I will not make a speech on this subject, but I would be grateful for a response from the Minister.

At the end of this morning's sitting, we could consider whether we might start this afternoon by tweaking our timetable. The new clauses that I mentioned would not have been reached until Thursday anyway, so there would be time to prepare any necessary briefings. I will not go to the wall on this, but that would have been my preference.

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): Good morning, Mr. Griffiths. It is good to see you again, as

 

winter turns to spring. Having started on that poetic note, I should say that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) made some perfectly reasonable points. I will not rehearse again the circumstances that led us to this situation. I recognise that the order in which we are considering the Bill causes inconvenience to the Committee. I discussed that at our first sitting, and I apologise again to the Committee for that inconvenience.

On the substance of the concerns raised by the hon. Members for Eastbourne and for Northavon (Mr. Webb), we can keep a watching brief through the usual channels on whether one final sitting to wrap up new clauses will be sufficient—although logically there will always be one final sitting. That may not be sufficient; if not, we will be sensible and get together to talk about scheduling another sitting or so. I am happy to give that commitment. We are drafting the amendments as quickly as we can, and when we can share them with the Committee, we will. I am happy to give that reassurance to the hon. Member for Eastbourne.

We will consider the point raised by the hon. Member for Northavon, but I am not promising anything. We cannot consider it this afternoon, but once we have fully understood his concern and considered the details, we may accommodate his wishes on Thursday morning if we can. As I said, I cannot promise that we shall.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 57

Information supplied to the Regulator by corresponding overseas authorities

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond): I beg to move amendment No. 35, in

clause 57, page 37, leave out lines 6 and 7 and insert—

'(c) by or on behalf of—

(i) the Regulator, or

(ii) any public authority (within the meaning of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c.42)) which receives the information directly or indirectly from the Regulator,

for any of the purposes specified in section 17(2)(a) to (d) of the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) (criminal proceedings and investigations).'.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne 9:30 am, 16th March 2004

I do not want to detain the Committee long on this motion, because we have a lot to say about the business that is guillotined to finish by the end of this morning's sitting. However, here we are again—barely a week into the Committee stage—with a change in the batting order. Although I declared an interest on Second Reading, it may be advisable to do so again now, because I have private pension provision. We consented to the revised programme motion, not least because if we had not done so, the Government would have passed it anyway.

Our discussion on the motion gives me the opportunity to put down a couple of markers about the future conduct of our proceedings now and on Report. The Government have been open about the fact that they intend to table a substantial number of amendments on a range of issues. We have already discussed many Government amendments, but they were concerned with minor drafting matters and polishing up the Bill. We are now awaiting Government amendments affecting some meaty issues, some of which are related to tomorrow's Budget. There seems to be difficulty in attaining consistency between the regulator's powers and functions and the proposed pension protection fund, although that should have been thought through before the Bill was published.

I think that the Minister accepts my concerns about such matters. For example, we have allowed the traditional one sitting to deal with new clauses at the end of our proceedings in Committee, but if the Government have tabled a raft of new clauses they may be in difficulty. If they decide to extend the duration of the Committee stage, we would like to know about that sooner than later—and I also make an urgent plea about the amendments. We understand that big issues are involved, and the Government should make their amendments public before we debate them in Committee not only for our sake, although that would be nice, but for the outside

 

organisations and individuals that often have a legitimate interest in our consideration of the Bill, and may wish to have their thoughts about proposed new parts of it transmitted through us.

It is important to receive a clear undertaking from the Minister that the Government are on top of the draftsmen day and night, to ensure that we do not get into major difficulties. I am talking not only about the Bill getting into difficulties, but about the burdens and problems that that causes for the Opposition and for outside organisations. Unless we receive early information about what amendments will be tabled, I cannot emphasise too much the fact that potential problems lie ahead.

Let us not lose sight of the draft regulations, either. Great tranches of the Bill rely heavily on regulations, and it would be meaningless to debate them until we have sight of them. We have not yet seen even one draft regulation; I imagine that the available manpower is too busy working on the amendments. I shall leave it there for the moment, Mr. Griffiths. I am sure that you appreciate that we shall face difficulties if the problem is not rectified.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Good morning, Mr. Griffiths. I was not aware of last night's meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee—the necessary card did not reach me—so I apologise for not making my observations then, when it might have slightly more constructive to do so. My only worry about amending the programme motion is that the only times when our mental energies will be devoted to state pensions will be this afternoon and Thursday morning. The rest of the Bill is principally about private sector regulation and the pension protection fund, which is all about private sector provision.

At the end of our consideration, however, the new clauses selected for debate—new clause 5 on married women's pensions and new clause 6 on overseas pensions—are to be discussed at the final Thursday afternoon sitting after Easter. Had I attended the meeting last night, I would have asked whether it would have made more sense to deal with all state pension issues in one go. We could then have left those mentally, and dealt with private pension issues for the rest of our deliberations, rather than discussing state pensions today and on Thursday, doing nothing on them for a month, and suddenly discussing them again at the fag-end sitting on the final Thursday afternoon, which may get swamped with Government new clauses anyway. We may not even debate those new clauses at all. I will not make a speech on this subject, but I would be grateful for a response from the Minister.

At the end of this morning's sitting, we could consider whether we might start this afternoon by tweaking our timetable. The new clauses that I mentioned would not have been reached until Thursday anyway, so there would be time to prepare any necessary briefings. I will not go to the wall on this, but that would have been my preference.

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

Good morning, Mr. Griffiths. It is good to see you again, as

 

winter turns to spring. Having started on that poetic note, I should say that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) made some perfectly reasonable points. I will not rehearse again the circumstances that led us to this situation. I recognise that the order in which we are considering the Bill causes inconvenience to the Committee. I discussed that at our first sitting, and I apologise again to the Committee for that inconvenience.

On the substance of the concerns raised by the hon. Members for Eastbourne and for Northavon (Mr. Webb), we can keep a watching brief through the usual channels on whether one final sitting to wrap up new clauses will be sufficient—although logically there will always be one final sitting. That may not be sufficient; if not, we will be sensible and get together to talk about scheduling another sitting or so. I am happy to give that commitment. We are drafting the amendments as quickly as we can, and when we can share them with the Committee, we will. I am happy to give that reassurance to the hon. Member for Eastbourne.

We will consider the point raised by the hon. Member for Northavon, but I am not promising anything. We cannot consider it this afternoon, but once we have fully understood his concern and considered the details, we may accommodate his wishes on Thursday morning if we can. As I said, I cannot promise that we shall.

Question put and agreed to.