Clause 240 - Consultations about regulations

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 22nd April 2004.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne 11:15 am, 22nd April 2004

I hope that this is, in a sense, an apology from Ministers for the problems of lack of consultation, late tabling of amendments and so on. It is extremely important that there is proper consultation and I am pleased that the Government seem to recognise that, at least in this clause. I hope that, unlike the consultation on changed pension schemes, it might be guaranteed to have some effect on what will happen.

I hope and assume that the words

''consult such persons as he considers appropriate''

include all the relevant bodies representing industry, the pensions industry and so on. It would not be in the Minister's interest not to consult as widely as possible, but I am concerned that the Government may slip back into their bad old ways with subsection (2)(b), under which the Secretary of State may decide that, because of the urgency, ''consultation is inexpedient''. I hope that the provision will be used very sparingly, particularly if the urgency is caused by the slowness of the Department in sorting the matter out in the first place, which is not difficult to envisage given its track record with the Bill and the Government amendments.

What has thoroughly defeated me—perhaps I read it too late last night or too early this morning—is subsection (2)(c), under which the provision does not apply

''to regulations . . . in a statutory instrument made before the end of the period of six months beginning with the coming into force of the provision of this Act by virtue of which the regulations are made''.

Why? I cannot see the relevance of a six-month cut-off. Why should that make a difference to whether there is consultation? If something deserves consultation, it should receive consultation. If it does not, so what? Perhaps the Minister could explain that.

I also have a slight concern about subsection (2)(d), under which it will be all too easy to certify that something is

''consequential upon a specified enactment''—

but I am sure that no one in the Department would even think of doing that, so the less said, the better. My other concerns, however, are substantive and I should be grateful for an explanation.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

I, too, wondered about subsection (2)(c) and the amnesty on needing to consult

''before the end of the period of six months beginning with the coming into force of the provision of this Act''

under which the relevant regulation was made. The provision may not come into force for another year or two, and there will still be an amnesty on consultation at that time. I wondered why that was necessary.

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

The issue of consulting the appropriate body or persons was discussed earlier on Conservative amendments. The issue here is that, although we are committed to the principle of consulting as widely as is appropriate, there may be circumstances in which it is not appropriate to consult every person or group concerned. For example, one would not necessarily consult employers when considering—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Two o'clock.