Clause 59 - Disclosure for facilitating exercise of functions by the Board

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 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

It may be helpful if I mention my concerns first, and the Under-Secretary then helps me, rather than doing things the other way round.

I am rather bemused by clause 59. I do not know whether it is just an example of sloppy drafting, but it is bizarre. Some tight rules are, quite properly, set out on the disclosure of information. We talked in previous debates about how important it is to have rules governing that. Opposition Members even tried to introduce amendments about the consequences, such as compensation or damages, if information were disclosed improperly or inappropriately. However, having gone to all that trouble, I find it odd that the clause seems to drive a coach and horses through the rest of this part of the Bill.

The clause says that despite section 56—currently clause 56, which we debated last week and which is fairly clear—restricted information can still be disclosed

''for the purpose of enabling or assisting the Board of the Pension Protection Fund to exercise its functions.''

Perhaps we will get an echo of that when we come to the clauses dealing with the PPF. However, on what basis can it decide to disclose information that would not normally be other than restricted? If it is to have that power, should it not be set out in some detail in this part of the Bill? Is not this an attempt by a draftsman to leave a large opening to allow the previous clauses, particularly clause 56, to be trampled over in a relevant case? I am rather puzzled about the purpose of the clause, and I should be grateful for the Under-Secretary's help.

Photo of Mr Chris Pond Mr Chris Pond Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

My apologies to the Committee if my voice sounds as if I am speaking through a pillow this morning. The purpose of the clause is fairly straightforward. There was some discussion last week about the relationship between the regulator and the board of the pension protection fund. All that we are seeking to do through the clause is ensure that the information that is transferred is protected. Any restricted information provided to the regulator, or to any person by the regulator, must not be disclosed unless it has the consent of the information provider, or the person to whom it relates. Information provided to the regulator by the Inland Revenue must not be disclosed without prior consent from the commissioners of the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise.

We are trying to ensure that during the transfer of information between the regulator and the board of the pension protection fund—which the Committee agreed last week was necessary and sensible, because it allowed the PPF to perform its functions and

protected members' interests—there is a flow of information with proper safeguards built in to its use and information providers are protected.

I hope that that clarifies what we are trying to do with clause 59.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

Not entirely. However, I do not want to press the pillow more firmly onto the Under-Secretary's face, so for the moment I shall let that go.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.