Clause 152 - Information to be provided to the Board

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 1st April 2004.

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Amendment made: No. 394, in

clause 152, page 95, line 14, leave out from 'provide' to 'information' in line 15 and insert '—

(a) to the Board, or

(b) to a person—

(i) with whom the Board has made arrangements under paragraph 17A of Schedule 5, and

(ii) who is authorised by the Board for the purposes of the regulations,'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I beg to move amendment No. 412, in

clause 152, page 95, line 16, at end insert

'and in so far as the information is relevant to the discharge of its function.'.

Clause 152 takes the prize in a Bill that, despite its length, is short on crucial detail. When I read it this morning, I wondered whether it was an April fool hoax on the part of the Government. To say that subsection (1) does not give much away is a massive understatement. It says:

''Regulations may require such persons as may be prescribed to provide to the Board information of a prescribed description at such times, or in such circumstances, as may be prescribed.''

That is a little like going to the chemist. It contains three different sets of regulations. The Committee now knows what I shall say before I say it: I accept that there is no danger of seeing any draft regulations. I suppose that we might tease out of the Minister vaguely how his mind works, but it is an extraordinary clause and the potential jackboots that are inherent in it need removing. That is why we want to insert the words,

''and in so far as the information is relevant to the discharge of its function.''

The clause gives almost limitless powers to the board to require information. Even though clause 153 contains similar wording, it is imperative that such a vast potential power under clause 152 has some limit upon it. I hope that the Minister accepts the force and wisdom of that argument.

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

We are not in a joking mood and the clause is not an April fool. Regulations under clause 152 will require specified people to provide specified information to the board or its agent, in certain specified circumstances. The amendment would clarify that the regulations may make provision only in respect of information that relates to the board's functions. Although the other information clauses specify that the data that the board gathers must be relevant to its functions, it is not considered necessary to make similar provision under clause 152.

The clause is designed to ensure that certain people automatically provide the board with information at specified times, including information that is required to calculate individual entitlement.

Let me give two examples of what the regulations will cover. First, individuals will be required to inform the board of a change in their circumstances. For example, a surviving dependant should send notification of death to the board. Secondly, the regulations may require groups, such as insolvency practitioners, trustees or employers, to notify the board when they receive information that is relevant to the exercise of the board's functions. That regulation-making power is required in addition to the other information-gathering clauses because the board cannot trawl for information. Instead, individuals will be required to provide information automatically to the board.

We fully support the amendment's intention. I assure Committee members that regulations under clause 152 will refer only to information that is relevant to the board's functions. On that basis, it is not considered to be necessary to specify that. I hope that with that reassurance, the hon. Gentleman, being a reasonable man, will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne 3:30 pm, 1st April 2004

I am not remotely reassured. We shall all tremble in fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night on the basis of provisions in the clause. This is extraordinary drafting. However, if we divided on it, we would lose, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 395, in

clause 152, page 95, line 20, at end insert—

'( ) Regulations made by virtue of paragraph (b) of that subsection must make provision regarding the manner in which the persons required to provide information are to be notified of the identity of the person authorised as mentioned in sub-paragraph (ii) of that paragraph.'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Clause 152, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.