Clause 240 - Consultations about regulations

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 22nd April 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question again proposed.

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

Committee members will be aware of the popular Radio 4 programme ''Sorry I Haven't a Clue''. That is not my response to the questions asked before we adjourned, but on that programme, contestants are required to sing along to the soundtrack of a popular song. The song is then paused and the winner is the contestant who is still singing the right part of the song when the soundtrack is turned on again. My challenge today is whether I can remember the right point in the sentence at which our sitting adjourned. In that context, I shall say, ''This would be inappropriate''—let us see whether that matches with the Hansard report of this morning's proceedings.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) was concerned that not all groups would be consulted, including those with the most passing of interest in the matter. I was explaining that it might be inappropriate for consultation to take place, for example, with the employer when the matters that were being consulted on were of concern to the trustees. I was simply making the point that consultation should be with the appropriate individuals and groups.

Concern was also raised about the consultation time, which would usually last for 12 weeks, and whether it could be undertaken in a shorter time in certain circumstances, such as when urgent changes have to be made and it is necessary for the consultation process to take place urgently.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I hope that the Under-Secretary and I are not misunderstanding each other, but my worry about subsection (2)(b) is that there would be no consultation, not that the process would be shortened. It states that subsection (1) would not apply

''where it appears to the Secretary of State that by reason of urgency consultation is inexpedient''.

That suggests that consultation would not occur at all.

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

As I explained, within the general principle that we wish to consult whenever possible, we hope that consultation will take place even in circumstances in which we cannot undertake the full 12 weeks. However, there will be circumstances in which action will have to be taken almost immediately and consultation is not possible. We must consider the full range of possibilities but within the general context

that, whenever possible, consultation should take place.

The hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who sadly has not been able to join us, raised an important point about the six-month period during which consultation does not need to take place. That is a fairly standard provision, carried over from similar legislation. We trust that there has been sufficient scrutiny of such legislation and that further consultation would not be appropriate within the first six months of the Bill coming into effect.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I have two points to make. First, the fact that such a provision appears elsewhere does not mean that it is not gobbledegook in that legislation, too. The consultation concerns the regulations, to be established in a statutory instrument, which we have not seen. Given some of the principles that have been painfully extracted and hammered out in Committee, we are talking about two different animals. Secondly, I still do not understand the reason behind the magic period of six months. I am not claiming any great credit, but I think I was the first to raise the matter, which also worried the hon. and learned Member for Redcar and the hon. Member for Northavon. I suspect that all three of us—well, if all three of us were here—would be puzzled by what the Under-Secretary has said so far. However, perhaps he has not reached the relevant part of his briefing notes.

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

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I left him out of my comments. He described the provision as gobbledegook; in that case, it is also gobbledegook in the Pension Schemes Act 1993 and the Pensions Act 1995. I will leave that statement on the record without further comment.

The principle is that, as the first sets of regulations come into force, following parliamentary debate on the policy during the Bill's passage through Parliament, the obligation to consult does not apply. That is the purpose of the six-month cut-off point. However, that does not prevent consultation from taking place and, where appropriate, it will take place.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 240 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 241and 242 ordered to stand part of the Bill.