Schedule 8 - Restricted information held by the Board: certain permitted disclosures to facilitate exercise of functions

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 1st April 2004.

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Question proposed, That this schedule be the eighth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury)

This is a small point, and I am sure that everyone is keen to get on. It will be interesting to know why there is a distinction between the information that can be passed to the pensions ombudsman and the information that can be passed to the ombudsman for the board of the pension protection fund. We shall talk about ombudsmen, perhaps when we get back from Easter, depending on when the Committee adjourns. However, it is interesting that there is a limit on the information that should go to the pensions ombudsman. Given that there is no limit on the information that goes to the pensions regulator, the Bank of England, the Auditor General and so on, why the restriction on the information that goes to the pensions ombudsman?

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

Perhaps I should explain that under clause 162, to which schedule 8 relates, the board may disclose information to a limited number of public and regulatory bodies to facilitate the exercise of certain functions. The schedule contains the details of those bodies and which functions are to be included. The organisations are specified in the first column of the schedule, and disclosure would be permitted only if it would enable or assist that body in the exercise of specific functions, which are listed in the second column.

Throughout our debates on the information clauses, we discussed the fact that the board will need the power to gather and disclose information in limited circumstances. We do not wish to create a situation in which two bodies are unable to share information that would be relevant to both their functions. That could restrict the effectiveness of both bodies, while increasing the administrative burden for everyone involved.

On the PPF ombudsman, there is, of course, an independent right of appeal for PPF-related matters. The ombudsman can ask for information and, under those circumstances, that transfer of information would be covered by separate arrangements.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury) 3:45 pm, 1st April 2004

I think that the Under-Secretary misunderstands me. I totally understand why the ombudsman for the board of the PPF can receive information; that is not my question. My question is why the pensions ombudsman—a separate ombudsman—can receive only a limited amount of information, and certainly does not have the same degree of disclosure enjoyed by the Bank of England, the pensions regulator, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Auditor General for Wales, the Auditor General for Scotland, the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland and the Counter Fraud and Security Management Service.

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

I had indeed misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's question, and I apologise for that. I do

not wish to detain the Committee for too long by replying in detail to it now, so perhaps I could write to him.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 8 agreed to.