Clause 176 - Obstruction etc of the PPF Ombudsman

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 20th April 2004.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

Welcome back to our deliberations, Mr. Griffiths. I have a couple of queries about the clause. In amendments debated this morning we tried to set out some powers that the PPF ombudsman, who may be the pensions ombudsman, would have to investigate matters, take evidence, call witnesses and so on. It is clear from earlier clauses that there will be a series of regulations in due course that will set out the way the ombudsman will conduct his business.

I was therefore puzzled by clause 176. On a logical reading of the Bill, one would think that the matters in this clause would be set out in regulation. As far as my research has taken me, there does not seem to be anything in the Pensions Act 1995 that replicates this provision. We agree as a matter of principle that there should be penalties that can be imposed on anyone who seeks to obstruct the PPF ombudsman, but it would make more sense to make that part of a general code as to how the ombudsman can conduct investigations and determinations under his or her remit.

I have a query that Scottish Members might be able to help me with. Subsection (4) seems to suggest that there is no such offence as contempt of court in Scotland. That might say a great deal about the rough and tumble of Scottish legal proceedings—or the opposite. It would be interesting to know why there is that slightly bizarre distinction.

Photo of Mr Chris Pond Mr Chris Pond Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions 3:00 pm, 20th April 2004

We do not expect this provision to be used frequently—certainly not on a daily basis. We expect the PPF ombudsman to reach determinations based on the evidence before him. We do not anticipate that anyone would deliberately obstruct him in carrying out his functions in Scotland or anywhere else. However, in the unlikely event that the PPF ombudsman is unlawfully obstructed, this clause allows him or her to certify the offence in question to the county court, or sheriff in Scotland. The court will, if required, order a punishment as though the person were in contempt of court.

Similar provision is made for the pensions ombudsman under section 140 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) said he could find no reference to a similar provision in the Pensions Act 1995; that is because it was in the Pension Schemes Act 1993. The power has never been used, although advising people that it will be used has proved a useful deterrent. We envisage that the power will be used rarely if at all, but we need to ensure that the PPF ombudsman has sufficient powers to carry out his functions effectively.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 176 ordered to stand part of the Bill.