Clause 175 - Determinations of the PPF Ombudsman

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

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Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury) 2:45 pm, 20th April 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 538, in

clause 175, page 111, line 44, at end insert—

'( ) The PPF Ombudsman may refer any question of law arising for determination in connection with a reviewable matter to the High Court or, in Scotland, to the Court of Session.'.

I am in danger of sounding like a cracked record on this point. [Interruption.] Well, perhaps I will repeat the arguments that I have just made; they also apply to this amendment. I seek to write into the clause the same powers that were given to the pensions ombudsman under section 150(7) of the Pension Schemes Act 1993. My amendment would give the PPF ombudsman the power to

''refer any question of law arising for determination in connection with a reviewable matter to the High Court or, in Scotland, to the Court of Session.''

It seeks to put in the Bill powers that I am sure the Under-Secretary will say the PPF ombudsman will have anyway under the regulations. However, without repeating the arguments, I would like to hear what the Under-Secretary has to say.

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

I warn you, Mr. Griffiths, that there is a real danger of fraternal co-operation and partnership breaking out in the Committee. Again, I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Tatton is sitting down because I think that he is right.

As clause 175 stands, an individual unhappy with the determination of the PPF ombudsman may appeal on a point of law only to the High Court or the Court of Session in Scotland. The Opposition amendment would also allow the PPF ombudsman—himself or herself—to refer a complex point of law that needs to be resolved and on which he or she needs guidance from the High Court or Court of Session in Scotland. It would replicate the provisions in the Pension Schemes Act 1993, which states in section 150(7) that the pensions ombudsman may refer any question of law to the High Court or the Court of Session in Scotland.

For that reason, the amendment is correct in principle, and in principle we wish to accept the point made by the hon. Member for Tatton and that made by the organisations through him. A provision that allows the PPF ombudsman to refer matters to the courts where the question relates to a complex point of law is as appropriate for the PPF ombudsman as it is for the pension ombudsman. We want to look at the wording of such an amendment, and the legal

insulation of the clause, but I give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that, if he is prepared to withdraw his amendment, we will come back as soon as possible with a Government amendment to achieve the same effect. In other words, rather than always leaving it to individuals to decide whether a point of law should be referred to the High Court or Court of Session in Scotland, the PPF ombudsman should also have the power to refer questions of law to those courts. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment on the understanding that we will introduce our own to the same effect.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury)

In my limited experience of Standing Committees during my three years here, it has once or twice happened to me that the Government have said, ''We are going to accept your amendment.'' However, just as I think that I am about to change the law of the land, the Government snatch victory away and say, ''But, of course, we are not sure that the amendment is properly worded, and we will have to go away and make sure that it is absolutely correct''—even though all I have done is replicate something from an Act of Parliament. I will, of course, accept my victory in principle.

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

Perhaps this will make the hon. Gentleman feel better: if we find that his wording is absolutely right, we will use his wording and it will become known as the Tatton amendment.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My constituency is famous for many things, and I have been doing all I can to find other things that it can be famous for. I concede that this will be a small step in that direction. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 175 ordered to stand part of the Bill.