Clause 224 - Dissolution of OPRA

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 20th April 2004.

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Amendment made: No. 504, in

clause 224, page 150, line 21, leave out

'an order under this section'

and insert 'subsection (2)'.—[Mr. Pond.]

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

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

I ask the Committee to cast its mind back to the halcyon days of the Committee—to 9 March, when we debated clause 7, which provided for the transfer of the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority's functions to the regulator, and made corresponding changes to definitions in previous Acts.

Clause 224 makes specific provision for the dissolution of OPRA and includes a power to ensure smooth transition from the current authority to the new regulator. An order under the clause will transfer all property, rights and liabilities to either the pensions regulator or the Secretary of State, as appropriate. Pensions tracing—putting people in touch with pension schemes with which they have lost contact—is currently performed by OPRA, but it will not be a function of the pensions regulator, hence the need to include the Secretary of State in the provision as well as the pensions regulator.

The clause will also ensure that there is continuity of regulation by allowing, among other things, cases that were under investigation by OPRA to transfer to the new regulator. We have made specific provision in

clause 224(3) for the transfer of information from OPRA to the new regulator, which will ensure that any information transferred is subject to the safeguards considered by the Committee on 11 and 16 March.

Amendment No. 504 is a technical amendment to the provision, which has corrected a typographical error.

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

I apologise to the Under-Secretary for missing his introductory remarks, but my question relates to what he just said. He referred to pensions tracing, which is important because people lose touch with their pensions and pension funds lose touch with their pensioners. Given that the national insurance system seems to lose touch with everybody, this is an important matter. Pensions tracing is done by OPRA, but the Minister implied that when there is no OPRA the regulator will not do it, for reasons that he did not specify. It has been decided that the Secretary of State will do it.

I should like to know how big a problem this is, and how much of what OPRA currently does is concerned with pensions tracing. How big a problem is there with people losing track of their pensions, and to what extent is the problem that schemes lose track of their members? Is that anything to do with what we are talking about? Are we talking about individuals? What is the scale of the problem of lost pensioners and lost pensions? When the Secretary of State is involved in pensions tracing, will I phone Newcastle if I have lost my pension? Who is the Secretary of State, as we so often say?

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

The pension-tracing work of OPRA is a specific part of its function. The hon. Gentleman was close to the truth in asking whether he should phone Newcastle, because that is where the pension-tracing functions are currently carried out. We have a complement of 70 staff doing that work in Newcastle, compared with 240-odd staff based in Brighton undertaking OPRA's other functions. That is an important function in OPRA's current work, and one to which we wish to continue to give priority.

However, in the establishment of the new pensions regulator, which, as we have discussed at some length, will be a very different sort of regulator, that part of OPRA's current functions fits more sensibly within the structure of the Department for Work and Pensions. Although no decisions have been made on the location of the staff who are currently working on pensions tracing, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that he should phone Newcastle is still a pretty good bet. We can provide further information on that subject to the Committee, if it would be helpful.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 224, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.