Clause 239 - Parliamentary control of orders and regulations

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 22nd April 2004.

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Amendment made: No. 562, in

clause 239, page 159, line 12, at end insert—

'( ) regulations which make provision by virtue of section (Further provisions about regulations relating to consultation by employers) (2)(f) (power to make amendments etc to certain Acts);'.—[Mr. Pond.]

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

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 11:15 am, 22nd April 2004

As I understand it, the clause indicates which of the many regulations that have to be passed to put all the provisions into effect are subject to the affirmative procedure. It is nice to see a good long list. It should keep us in business for many happy hours.

I am particularly pleased to see included on the list the power in subsection (2)(o) for the Secretary of State to scrap the insurance basis of the PPF—that is, the power to decide not to pay out because there is not much money. I am pleased that that will require an affirmative resolution of both Houses, as it rightly should.

There is just one little thing that I do not understand. Subsection (1) states that everything is subject to the negative procedure except for the matters listed in subsections (2) and (3), but subsection (3) states that subsection (1) does not apply to the matters listed in it. I would have thought that if one said that everything is negative except those

things that are positive, there would be two parts—but there is a mysterious third part. The explanatory notes state:

''The exercise of the remaining powers . . . will attract the negative procedure, except for those powers (listed in subsection (3)) . . . which are not subject to Parliamentary control.''

I am slightly nervous about matters not being subject to parliamentary control. Would the Minister tell us what that means?

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I shall follow up on some of the points made by the hon. Member for Northavon and ask whether the list in subsection (3) is exhaustive, and why those items were put in a special category. I broadly welcome the long list of matters that are to be subject to the affirmative procedure; that is right and proper. It is important that the House should have an opportunity to say something about regulations on the administration levy, the initial levy and the levy ceiling, as those are issues that the Committee has debated, and about which we may hear more this evening at Mr. Kandarian's lecture.

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about subsection (2) paragraphs (n) and (o), both of which deal with the Government's right to cut the benefits at a certain point. Without trying to seem too doom-laden, we have made several arguments about the fragility of the PPF in its early stages, given the flat rate and the possibility that schemes will wait for it to come into operation only to collapse into its arms. I, and other hon. Members, have expressed considerable concerns about that more than once. It is absolutely right that such matters should be debated in the House.

I also agree that complaints about, for example, maladministration should be treated in that way. Also important are information and advice to employees. The list includes many of the important issues that deserve the affirmative procedure. As such, I am happy to support the clause, but I repeat the question asked by the hon. Member for Northavon, which also occurred to me, about subsection (3).

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

We have had some debate on the issues in paragraph (o), and it was made clear in our earlier discussions that we are building in flexibility not because we believe that the fund will be unable to meet anticipated demands on it, but because it is sensible to build in flexibility for the long term. We do not need to dwell on that, and the fact that it will be put to Parliament for consideration is an important safeguard.

On the issue raised by the hon. Member for Northavon and the other elements of the subordinate legislation that are not subject to the affirmative procedure, he will note from the list that on the whole, they are pretty standard and routine issues on which I doubt that Parliament would wish to spend much time. However, I assure him that those in subsection (3) are standard procedures—for example, commencement—that go to the Joint Committee for Statutory Instruments but are not laid before Parliament. That largely reflects provisions under the Pensions Act 1995,

except for commencement of codes of practice, which is a new power. I hope that with those assurances, the Committee will be happy for the clause to stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 239, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.