Clause 220 - Persons entitled to more than

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm 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 is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Cran. I was hoping that one of the Ministers would tell the Committee a bit more about what the clause attempts to do. I am sure that they are proud of it; perhaps they would talk us through it.

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

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cran, and back to the country after your visit to Turkey. You were probably not thinking about category B pensions on the return flight, but the clause is concerned with that matter.

The purpose of the clause is straightforward. It ensures that if a person is entitled to more than one category B pension, he or she is able to choose between them. For the enlightenment of Committee members who are not category B pension anoraks, a pension is payable by virtue of the spouse's qualifying years of earnings. Those who can get a category B pension are married women, widows and widowers. The clause primarily affects widows already entitled to a category B pension who remarry. People are already able to choose if they are entitled to two or more retirement pensions of different categories. The ability to choose which category B pension existed in law until April 1992. The ability to make that choice was then inadvertently omitted when contributory benefits legislation was consolidated into the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. That was not our mistake.

When we discovered the omission in 2001—[Interruption.]—shortly after we came to power, and took steps to correct it. We did not want people to lose out through a mistake not of their own making, so we provided for the most beneficial category B pension to be paid on an extra-statutory basis until such time as we could amend the legislation. That time is now.

The clause restores the choice that existed in legislation before April 1992. It is important to give pensioners choice and we must put the payments back on a statutory footing. That will provide reassurance to recipients of the payments and reassure taxpayers that their money is being paid legally. In practice, no one has lost out because of the error in the 1992 Act, and no one will lose out as a result of our decision to restore this piece of legislation.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am glad that I raised the matter. It is an object lesson to the Committee on how things can

inadvertently go wrong. That is why Opposition scrutiny of the sort that we offer is so important. From the Minister's chronology, it sounds as though the result was a score draw: a Conservative Government dropped the ball, but it took the incoming Labour Government an almost equal period to notice that it had been dropped.

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

A Conservative Government dropped it; we picked it up.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I have not played rugby for a few years, as is apparent from a glance at my shape, but I think that taking four years to pick up a ball that has been dropped is about as bad as dropping it in the first place.

I am pleased that no one has lost out, and I am sure that those who have continued to receive their money are blissfully unaware that they have been doing so illegally and that the Government could have claimed it back from them at any time. It is right that we should support the clause now that we know exactly what it is for.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 220 ordered to stand part of the Bill.