Clause 164 - Disclosure of information by the

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 1st April 2004.

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Amendment made: No. 71, in

clause 164, page 102, line 41, after '(2)' insert

'above or section 19 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) (disclosure of information held by revenue departments)'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Clause 164, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 165 and 166 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Assistant Whip

I beg to move, That further consideration be now adjourned.

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

I believe that it is the convention that the motion to adjourn is debatable. I will not argue against my hon. Friend's suggestion, but the hon. Member for Eastbourne raised a point of order at the beginning of our proceedings this morning—[Interruption]—as he eagerly recalls, and I would like to respond briefly to his questions. As I come from what I call the Department for Work, where we believe in the work ethic, I believe that there is no reason why we should not debate this subject long into the evening, but that may not be universally popular.

I would like to clarify our proposed timetable for discussing our remaining new clauses. As hon. Members are aware, we have tabled new clauses relating to the pensions ombudsman and additional voluntary contributions. We had hoped to table more new clauses before the Easter recess, but I regret that

that has not proved possible. We therefore plan to table further new clauses during the recess. I am advised—although you may have better information, Mr. Cran—that amendments tabled before Thursday 15 April will be printed in the Order Paper on Friday 16 April. Amendments tabled on 16 April will appear on the Order Paper on 19 April and, I understand, will not be starred when we reconvene on 20 April.

Of course, I recognise that that leaves members of the Committee in a difficult position regarding notice of Government amendments. To try to help them with that, I will send copies of the amendments and briefing notes to hon. Members as they are tabled. As previously discussed, we are still aiming to table a number of amendments relating to subjects announced in the action document in June 2003 but not yet included in the Bill. Those include changes to section 67 of the Pensions Act 1995, which relates to the modification of the accrued rights of members of occupational pension schemes. The amendment would enable schemes to rationalise existing arrangements and reduce administration costs and complexity, provided that certain safeguards are in place.

A new power will require employers to consult affected active members and/or their representatives on key major changes to future pension arrangements. Amendments will also relate to the transfer and preservation provisions in the Pensions Act 1995, which include a measure for people who change jobs regularly, to flexible retirement provisions enabling employees to draw a pension while continuing to work and contribute, and to the age at which deferred pensions can be taken in schemes in which the normal retirement age is below 60. That links with changes in pension age in public service schemes.

Additionally, as I indicated earlier, we shall table some further amendments relating to the pensions regulator, which deal with pensions liberation—pensions ''liberation'' is not as nice as it sounds; it is something that we do not really like. They will also give new powers to the regulator to keep pace with constantly evolving unlawful practice. There will also be amendments to enable the regulator to appoint and maintain a register of approved independent trustees.

We also intend to table new clauses dealing with moral hazard, to provide adequate protection against the manipulation of liabilities by employers that wish to take unfair advantage of the pension protection fund. Further PPF-related amendments will give the PPF the power to publish reports, provide limitations on investment powers and ensure parity of treatment for members of schemes that do not enter the pension protection fund because of their funding position.

I do not expect that this afternoon's debate is over, although we are discussing a motion to adjourn, but in case I do not have an opportunity to speak again, may I wish you, Mr. Cran, and Mr. Griffiths in his absence, and all Committee colleagues and supporting officials a happy Easter?

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I echo those Easter sentiments.

What is one to say? Hardly any of the issues that the Minister has flagged up in his comments, which were helpful as far as they went, are new. On the contrary, they are almost all matters that the industry and the experts expected to be in the Bill. The Minister talks about the Department for Work, but some sections of that Department have not been working hard enough.

I want to make a point that I have made before, but which seems to have fallen entirely on deaf ears. This point is not just about amendments or new clauses that will be tabled during the recess so that they are printed, and debatable on the Tuesday when we come back. Perhaps Opposition Committee members will have had the chance at least to glance at them, and at the explanatory notes. The whole point is that people out there want to know that they are being tabled, and want to have the chance to comment on them through Committee members, and I do not think that they will have that opportunity. That is an outrageous way to legislate in a complex area of the law, which will severely limit our ability to scrutinise those parts of the Bill, and will make it all the more necessary for proper scrutiny to take place—ultimately, in another place.

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

I appreciate the briefing problems that the hon. Gentleman faces, and I promise to send a copy to the House of Commons Library.

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

A copy of the things that I promised to send to Committee members. I know that the hon. Gentleman draws a lot on the Library information documents; hence my suggestion.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I never know whether the Minister is being funny or not, and I suspect that I am not in the minority. This is a serious point; it is up to the Government whether they want to seem even more crassly incompetent to the outside world and to the people who will have to make the legislation work in the real world than they already do. That is a matter for them. We will do what we can to scrutinise the legislation, but I suspect that it will run into closer scrutiny in another place.

Anyway, I do not want to ruin this pre-Easter warmth and amity, so I again wish the Committee a happy Easter—and one free from worries about rafts of new clauses.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

If those clauses, which have proved so tricky that they have not yet been written, finally arrive imperfect from the womb in our e-mail inboxes on Easter Sunday, shall we be able to table amendments to them? Once we have seen them, if there are bits of them that we do not like, will it be in order to table amendments to a new clause that will not, at that point, have been added to the Bill?

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

In that case, I am happy to agree that the Committee should now adjourn.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

But in practical terms, if any of the new clauses are debated straight after the Easter break, there will not be time to table amendments to them that will be debatable.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am grateful for that intervention. May I ask for further clarification, Mr. Cran? I can understand why Government new clauses—even those that appear the day before our debate and are therefore starred—will be selected for our Tuesday sitting, otherwise I do not know what we shall do on that Tuesday. Is there a distinction between Government and non-Government new clauses, because the latter would be starred and not selectable?

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Having consulted those who know, I am advised that if hon. Members wish to table amendments to new clauses that are available, it would be much better for the Committee if they could do so by the Friday, if possible. If they table them on the Monday, the Chairman will have to use his discretion.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am sorry, Mr. Cran—this is not some anti-religious attempt to stop Easter, but some of

the new clauses will be printed on the Monday, so we cannot possibly do that, if I am correct in assuming that by ''the Friday'', you mean the Friday before we return.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

For the avoidance of any doubt whatever, I shall read out this piece of paper that I have been given. Amendments to new clauses: if the new clauses are not seen in print until the Monday, they will be starred.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I think that we have got there, have we not?

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Four o'clock till Tuesday 20 April at half-past Nine o'clock.