Clause 198 - Member-nominated trustees and directors: supplementary

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 18th March 2004.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne 2:45 pm, 18th March 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 297, in

clause 198, page 125, line 2, leave out subsection (1).

One of the peculiarities and joys of this Bill is that whenever we turn a corner, we stumble across a piece of drafting that we have never seen before, either in legal practice or in the House.

The amendment seeks to remove clause 198(1). It is a probing amendment, designed to get to the bottom

of what the Government aim to achieve. The subsection concerns the famous regulations, of which we have yet to see a single line of a single draft—although as we wear our weary way through the Bill's clauses, I live in hope. It says that regulations

''may modify sections 196 and 197 in their application to prescribed cases.''

What on earth does that mean? It is bad enough having regulations modifying primary legislation, which is what is inherent in the first part of that sentence. That is something to be avoided wherever possible. After all, what is the point of our debating the clauses if they can later be modified when the Department has second thoughts?

However, it is the words

''in their application to prescribed cases''

that I am puzzled about. What does that mean? What are prescribed cases? Have I missed a definition somewhere in a subsection or schedule? It is surely not suggesting that the effects of clauses 196 and 197 can be modified for specific disputes relating to particular schemes. If it is—I am looking for a shake or nod of the head—that would be wholly unacceptable. With my usual faith in the Under-Secretary, I rely on his shaking his head. Perhaps he can tell us what it means.

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

Amendment No. 297 would remove the power to make regulations to modify the application of clauses 196 and 197 in prescribed cases. The hon. Gentleman rightly asked for some explanation of how we intend to use that power.

From our experience with the existing member-nominated trustee and director requirements, we know that the diversity and variety of schemes makes it likely that there will be situations in which the requirements as drafted will need to be modified. That is less likely with the simplified provisions, as there is more scope for schemes to adopt arrangements that suit their circumstances. Nevertheless, it is prudent—and, in the context of yesterday's statement, perhaps purposeful as well—to reserve a power to modify if it proves necessary.

The only example that we have identified relates to clause 196(2)(a), which requires the nomination process to involve

''at least all the active members''.

We may need to modify that by regulations for schemes where there are no active members. Incidentally, the fact that schemes exist with no active members, just as there will be some with no pensioners, illustrates the sheer variety of schemes, and why the modification power is necessary.

With that clarification, I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

There are times during the Committee stage of a Bill where one begins to question whether one is seriously engaged in making the world a better place. One even reflects on the meaning of life. It is intensely depressing to hear that, having had a well informed and interesting debate—everything is relative, of course—about active members versus pensioner members, that could all be

changed later at the flick of a pen. That seems to be what the subsection means. Am I misinterpreting what the Under-Secretary said?

I do not think that Ministers should take such powers. They should debate the issues, defend the Bill if necessary, force it through and put it on the statute book—but say, ''Well, there may be a problem here after all, and we'll deal with it later,'' is not good enough. Despite that fact, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 198 ordered to stand part of the Bill.