Clause 66 - Revocation of codes of practice

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 16th March 2004.

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

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

The clause was bound to provoke me because it deals with the Secretary of State interfering again in the regulator's business. I cannot begin to understand why the Secretary of State should have a power to revoke a code of practice. I accept that the regulator should have the power to revoke one of its codes of practice, but it is a little wishy-washy to refer to the revocation being made with the consent of the regulator.

The philosophical difference between the two sides has surfaced before. The Government are setting up a gleaming, shining new regulator with new powers and functions and a probably much-enhanced staff and budget. The Conservatives believe that we should let it get on with it. Having set it up and given it the best possible start in life, the Secretary of State should not start micro-managing such matters. It mystifies me why the Secretary of State should have a view on a code of practice, other than that of any essential consultee, as Secretaries of State have better things to do. The clause should be removed altogether and it should be made clear that the regulator can revoke its code of practice. The Minister mentioned a possible scenario—it is difficult to credit—that something might need to be done in an emergency. It is the regulator, which should know its own business, not a politician, that should be in charge of this sort of issue.

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

We agree sometimes, Mr. Griffiths. Clauses 64 and 65 place a duty on the regulator to

issue the codes of practice and to consult. The Secretary of State must lay codes of practice before Parliament as they will be commenced by order of the Secretary of State. Clause 66 permits that Minister to revoke codes, also by order. Opposition Members expressed their concern that that gives too much power to the Secretary of State, and I hope I can reassure them that that is not the case. The procedure is designed to enable a flexible approach to legislation; it was one of the underlying purposes of allowing the regulator to issue codes of practice in the first place.

However, such an approach must still have appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, which is why codes can be stopped by resolution of either House. As codes are commenced by order, they must also be revoked by order and the procedure ensures that there will be no confusion about whether codes of practice or any particular version of a code are current. An order to revoke a code may not be made without the regulator's consent, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged. That is what subsection (2) is about.

The measure will ensure that we strike precisely the right balance between the regulator staying at arm's length from Government and retaining sufficient parliamentary accountability for its actions. It should also allay any Opposition concerns about the Government's ability to interfere in the regulator's activities. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am not reassured, but as we want to make progress I am happy to move on.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.