New Clause 31 - Publishing reports

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 27th April 2004.

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'(1) The Board may, if it considers it appropriate to do so in any particular case, publish a report of the exercise of, or any matter arising out of or connected with the exercise of, any of its functions in that case.

(2) The publication of a report under subsection (1) may be in such form and manner as the Board considers appropriate.

(3) For the purposes of the law of defamation, the publication of any matter by the Board is privileged unless the publication is shown to be made with malice.'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Good morning, Mr. Griffiths. I am not sure that the new clause need detain the Committee so long as to push us through to Thursday, but we shall see.

The new clause will give the pension protection fund board the power to publish reports on the exercise of its functions. It is designed to allow the board to publish a variety of reports, which could, for example, contain details of consultation exercises, statistics concerning the PPF's functions or recommendations of good practice for schemes that become involved with the PPF.

One may ask why on earth the Bill needs to give a body that it establishes, the power to publish reports. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Northavon saying, ''indeed''. It is therefore important to make it clear that the new clause also specifies that, unless the reports are malicious, which of course we would never expect them to be, there will be exemption from action on the grounds of defamation. That will allow the PPF the freedom to perform its role independently.

The power to publish reports is not unique. The regulator has a similar power in clause 63, which allows it to publish reports regarding the consideration it gives to the exercise of its functions, including the results of that consideration. Clause 63 replicates Section 103 of the Pensions Act 1995, which gives the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority the same power. OPRA's power was originally absolute. Even in cases where malice might have been considered, it was protected against any action. The Opposition agreed with us that it was perhaps necessary to limit those powers.

We believe that the PPF's power to publish reports will help to ensure that the organisation is transparent, by allowing it to disclose details of its decisions and its decision-making processes, where appropriate. Furthermore, we believe that the power will enable the board to make best use of reports—for example, on its website—to keep individuals and third parties informed of its involvement with a scheme.

We envisage that some reports may contain information that is restricted information for the purposes of the information clauses in chapter 5 of part 2, where the board considers that to be necessary, in the light of the nature of the report and the purpose of publishing it. That will require a small associated amendment in clause 159, which we will table later.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I may be quite wrong, but my vague recollection is that the new clause is a response to an amendment that we moved, and argued for, some time ago in the Committee. I seem to remember having a long argument about the differences between absolute and qualified privilege. As the Committee knows, I am far from being an egomaniac in such matters. However, having tabled hundreds of amendments and

new clauses, I think that it would be nice if we got a modicum of credit on the sole occasion on which the Government have accepted our amendment.

I argued strongly that absolute privilege was not appropriate for the publication of such reports, whether by the regulator, the board, the ombudsman or whomsoever. I said that there was no room for absolute privilege and that we should therefore consider qualified privilege, which is mentioned in subsection (3). I should like to think that history would record that one small corner of the Bill is due to me and that future generations of Watersons will be able to point to this result with pride.

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

I wonder whether, in the generous spirit of the Committee, I might help history along and acknowledge the important role that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have played in highlighting the issue, which we have willingly taken on board through the new clause.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am grateful for that generous intervention. Now that the part that we have played in such an historic moment is firmly on the record, I am happy to sit down.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.