New Schedule 1 - Reviewable matters

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:51 pm on 27th April 2004.

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1 Whether an occupational pension scheme is an eligible scheme.

2 The issue of, or failure to issue, a notice under section 97(2) (Board's duty where insolvency practitioner fails to give a notice under section 96).

3 The issue of, or failure to issue—

(a) a notice under subsection (2) of section 102 (scheme rescue not possible), or

(b) a withdrawal notice under subsection (3) of that section (scheme rescue has occurred).

4 Any direction given under subsection (2) of section 106 (directions during an assessment period) or any variation or revocation of such a direction under subsection (4) of that section.

5 The issue of a notice under section 108(2) (power to validate contraventions of section 107).

6 The making of a loan under section 111(2) (loans to pay scheme benefits), the amount of any such loan or the failure to make such a loan.

7 The approval of, or failure to approve, a valuation in respect of an eligible scheme under section 113(2).

8 The issue of, or failure to issue, a withdrawal notice under or by virtue of—

(a) section 115 (schemes which become eligible schemes), or

(b) section 116 (new schemes created to replace existing schemes).

9 The issue of, or failure to issue, a withdrawal notice under section 117(5)(a) (no insolvency event has occurred or is likely to occur).

10 The issue of, or failure to issue, a determination notice under section [schemes required to wind up but unable to buy out liabilities](6) (authorisation to continue as closed scheme).

11 Any direction given under section 119(7) (directions about winding up of scheme with sufficient assets to meet protected liabilities) and any variation or revocation of such a direction.

12 The issue of, or failure to issue, a determination notice under section 121(2A) (whether value of scheme assets less than aggregate of protected liabilities etc).

13 The failure by the Board to give a transfer notice under section 122.

14 Any determination by the Board of a person's entitlement to compensation under the pension compensation provisions or the failure in any case to make such a determination.

15 Any failure by the Board to make a payment required by section 125(3)(b) (adjustments to be made where Board assumes responsibility for a scheme).

16 The amount of the initial levy or any pension protection levy payable in respect of an eligible scheme determined by the Board under section 143(3)(b).

17 The making of a fraud compensation payment under section 144(1), the amount of any such payment or the failure to make such a payment.

18 The issue of, or failure to issue, a notice under section 145(2) (scheme rescue not possible or having occurred in case of scheme which is not eligible or not subject to insolvency events).

19 Any settlement date determined by the Board under section 146(2) (recovery of value) or the failure to determine a settlement date under that provision.

20 Any determination by the Board under section 146(4) (recovery of value: whether amount received in respect of particular act or omission) or the failure to make such a determination.

21 The making of a payment under section 148(1) (interim payments), the amount of any such payment or the failure to make such a payment.

22 Any term or condition imposed by the Board—

(a) under section 147(2) on the making of a fraud compensation payment; or

(b) under subsection (4) of section 148 (interim payments) on the making of a payment under subsection (1) of that section.

23 Any determination by the Board under section 148(3)(b) (interim payments) that the amount of a payment was excessive.

24 Any date determined by the Board under section 149(4) (earliest date for making a fraud compensation transfer payment).

25 Any determination by the Board under section 149(6) (fraud compensation transfer payments: whether payment is received in respect of particular act or omission).'.—[Malcolm Wicks.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions

I shall make the customary, but sincere, closing remarks, in the form of a vote of thanks. Unfortunately, I cannot give a vote of thanks to the Liberal Democrat and Conservative women

MPs on the Committee, who could not take part in this outbreak of artificial feminism because there were none.

We have now almost reached the end of our discussions in the Committee, and I will reflect briefly on the past eight weeks. Last Tuesday, I congratulated the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond), on his appearance in the marathon. I believe that he said that he had been unable to prepare in the normal way but that his experience in the Committee had prepared him in other ways. As I recall, he indicated that it was a painful event, which took a long time, and in which one ended up at the place at which one had begun. He did not mention that he had at least managed to finish; so, finally, has the Committee.

However, we have not ended up at the place at which we began. We have achieved considerable progress during the 22 sittings of the Committee. I know that Opposition Members will be disappointed, although not unduly surprised, that we have not accepted any of their amendments. However, we have taken some of those amendments away for consideration and brought them back, or will do so at a later stage in the consideration of the Bill. Last week, I commented on the forbearance of Opposition Members in the matter of Government amendments.

This has been a long, complex and technical Bill, although I know that many hon. Members will miss it in the weeks to come. We have had to introduce more amendments than we would normally have liked to do, but even in the halcyon days of the Pensions Act 1995 there were large numbers of Government amendments. Perhaps that is a feature of pensions Bills, and why they seem to occur only once a decade.

On several occasions during the Committee's discussions we mentioned the parliamentary draftsmen, although, for this Bill, they have mostly been parliamentary draftswomen. They are mainly unseen and often maligned. However, without their perseverance and fortitude the Bill would not be here; I should like to pay tribute to their contribution in the Official Report.

Changes in this area are not undertaken lightly. The Government are keen to ensure that the PPF is put in place as soon as possible, so that pensions can be protected from April 2005, and that has meant amendments along the way. Of course, we have not forgotten the lengthy debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan). I take this opportunity to commend him on his tireless pursuit of a remedy for those who have already lost their pensions.

Although we have no announcement at present, as I said last week we are continuing to search for information. As I said in the House yesterday, Members will have to be a little more patient.

I want to thank you, Mr. Cran, and Mr. Griffiths for the way in which you have chaired the Committee. On more than one occasion we moved at such breakneck speed thanks to your rigour that I was very confused.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions

If, Mr Cran, you had been running the marathon at that speed, you would not only have beaten the Under-Secretary, but possibly got ahead of the rhinoceros and the chickens. Sadly, my colleague never got in front of them. I hope, Mr. Cran, that we did not give you too many occasions for intervention and that you have enjoyed the experience of the past eight weeks—as we all have.

I also take the opportunity to thank members of the Committee for the full part that they have played in the proceedings. The hon. Member for Eastbourne and the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) have probed the Bill with the help of many outside groups and, of course, the Library.

I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Northavon, who is sometimes typecast by others, but not by myself, as a boffin. However, given that he served as a research assistant to the hon. Member for Eastbourne on one occasion, he is a very useful boffin. He can always be relied upon to do his research and ask the most difficult, but telling, questions. Although I sometimes cross swords with him, and even give way to mild irritation, anyone who taught my daughter the subject of social policy at Bath university so ably is someone that I can never entirely get irritated by.

I must thank my hon. Friends for their participation and support of course. They have made a considerable contribution and it was particularly pleasant to end our deliberations on a new clause that was tabled from the Labour Benches; even if—I am thinking on my feet—we could not accept the annual nature of the report we were certainly keen to accept its principle.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

It is probably more important to have an annual report and then some action than to have repeated reports with no action afterwards. I hope that my hon. Friend's one report will report action.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions

I thank my hon. Friend very much.

I particularly want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), who cannot be present today, for his invaluable assistance during the proceedings, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) for working through the usual channels. I also want to thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for his support during the Bill. He was able to assist on pensions while also carrying out the rest of his normal duties, including earlier this afternoon giving evidence on identity cards to a Select Committee. I am sure that he saw that as more of a 100 m event. That is why he missed our proceedings this afternoon. It has been a pleasure to have him on board and to give him his first major experience as a Minister on a Bill of this kind.

Of course, Mr. Cran, you have been ably assisted by the Clerk, and we have all greatly benefited from his advice. He serves Committees with great diligence and I know that he is effective as a servant of the House in at least five countries where I have been present with him when I was on a previous Select Committee. All of us must thank the Hansard writers, who, as ever, have

recorded faithfully every word that has been uttered—and some that we did not mean to utter—and the House officials, who also deliver our messages.

I must also pay tribute to the policemen who sit at the door. They have not had a great deal to do during the Committee, with so few votes to call, but when necessary they have carried out their job with their usual dedication. How they have managed that without identity cards I do not know, but it might be that certain Conservative Members who were not present during the Committee were prevented from coming in.

I am sure that the Bill is leaving Committee in a better state than it began. During one of our discussions we had an outbreak of song, not in a literal sense, but in the form of references to both Don McLean and Simon and Garfunkel. I am advised that it might be more appropriate to end with some home-grown talent. We have come through the magical mystery tour and made it to the end of a long and winding road. I am pleased to acknowledge that I have received a little help from my friends. When I am 64—still some years away, I am pleased to say, despite the Department's commitment to extended working—I hope that I shall not be working, as I have during the Committee stage, for eight days a week.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I associate myself unreservedly with the various thank yous with which the Minister has dealt so ably: to yourself, Mr. Cran, and Mr. Griffiths, the Clerks, the Hansard writers, the officials, outside bodies and individuals, the police and all the other staff of the House. I particularly thank the officials and the draftswomen, who have done so much to keep us interested in the Bill. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster: one has never known from one week to another what shape the Bill was going to be in, so it has been extremely helpful to have all the last-minute changes. We look forward to the last-minute changes on Report and in their lordships' House.

I should like to thank my colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton, for helping me to probe the Bill and reveal its many unsatisfactory aspects. It is always a pleasure to be on this side of the Committee with the hon. Member for Northavon. I do not think that his relationship with the determinations panel will ever be fully in the public domain, but that is something that clearly gets him extremely excited. We are leaving behind a number of old friends, including the determinations panel, the reconsideration committee—another strange product of this legislation—and our old friend, the deputy PPF ombudsman. That is a role to which some of us hope to aspire in our semi-retirement one day, but it will apparently be denied to parliamentarians. We wish whoever he or she is well in the ranks of the ombudspeople.

I should like to thank the Ministers for being, on the whole, good-natured, if sometimes a little vague about their legislation. I should particularly like to thank a number of Government Back Benchers, who have made an enthusiastic and knowledgeable contribution to many of our debates. Their enthusiasm has not extended to voting for their own amendments and new

clauses but, having been a Whip myself, we all understand such matters. The Minister, in particular, has been a great inspiration to us all. I notice from his biographical details that in 1997 he was urging credits for those who sacrifice pensions to care for relatives, so that is another example of something in which he believed before he became a Minister. He also lists as one of his activities

''very occasional white water rafting''.

I think that this Bill has been the nearest dry land equivalent to that. He is described in one of the reference books as ''Frank Field without God'', which says it all. The Daily Telegraph sketch today says, quoting him in the House yesterday:

'' 'It is very important not to do anything that might raise expectations', said Mr. Wicks, speaking through a suntan.''

I do not know where he achieved that.

We enjoyed hearing about the Under-Secretary's marathon run, not forgetting that at one time, The Independent dubbed his loyalty to the Government ''stomach churning''. We have also been very privileged to have a future Home Secretary join us briefly—the hon. and learned Member for Redcar, who has always been very insistent and well researched on the subject of women's pensions, among other things. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West has been like the ghost at the feast. Having joined the Young Communist League, he obviously saw the error of his ways, and has been fighting a doughty battle for some of his constituents. The chapter remains to be written as to what happens to his constituents, and those of other hon. Members. It has been like the elephant in the Committee Room that, despite everything else that we have debated, the fate of the 60,000 people remains out there somewhere. There seems to be a suggestion of some movement on the issue by Ministers, and let us hope that that is right, with the encouragement of the Prime Minister of course. I pay particular tribute to the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde, who has made the transition from being a Roman Catholic priest to the traditional role of a PPS, which is to shout abuse at the Opposition spokesman from a sedentary position. I am sure that his training for the priesthood came in handy.

Malcolm Wicks: He was not on his knees.

Mr. Waterson: Difficult to tell, but I do not think that he was.

Mr. Cran, this has been a relatively good-natured Committee stage, given the complexity of the Bill and the extraneous factors that have been at work. There is still much work to be done. We will return on Report to old friends such as the determinations panel, but for the moment it falls to me on behalf of my colleagues to thank you and your colleague, Mr. Griffiths, for your courteous and effective chairmanship. The Committee has worked extremely hard and I hope that all its members, particularly those on the Government Benches, and especially those who did not vote for their own amendments, will get their reward in due course.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Imagine, Mr. Cran—you might have thought that we would never reach this point, but we have. I echo the thanks of the Committee to you and Mr. Griffiths for your humane chairmanship—in particular, given the unseasonal weather, your attitude to jackets off, which has been very welcome. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) and the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) for their contributions. It has, indeed, been a good-natured Committee. It takes a certain sort of pensions anorak to say that he has enjoyed the proceedings, but I admit that I had my moments when we really got going. I am grateful for the Minister's response to a number of the amendments that we tabled, and for his assurances that he would reflect on issues such as the married woman's stamp—I do not know how much time he has to do it or how quickly he can reflect, but sooner rather than later would be greatly appreciated.

It has been good to hear the contributions of the hon. Member for Eastbourne. Often, I have looked at a complex briefing from an outside body and thought, ''I do not need to read this.'' That has been a great blessing. While we look forward to the moment when we understand better what the Conservatives think about the Bill, we are pleased that it has progressed through Committee. We want to see it on the statute book because we want to see pensions better protected, and it has been a pleasure to serve with all members of the Committee. We, too, thank those who have already been mentioned.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

On behalf of my co-Chairman, I thank those who have spoken for their kind remarks, some of which were more fulsome than others—I have noted that. The background to that comment is that the hon. Member for Eastbourne and I served in the Opposition Whips Office for some time, and know a great deal about each other. That is the best that I can say. I also, on behalf of Mr. Griffiths, thank all Front Benchers for the extraordinarily high quality of debate. This has been a very easy Committee to order. In fact, order is not the correct word; just a slight tilt at the tiller has brought the Committee back to the direction in which I have thought that it should be going.

Mr. Griffiths and I would also, of course, like to associate ourselves with all the thanks that have been expressed to the Hansard writers, without whom people would not in future be able to read the wise words to which I have had the pleasure of listening; to the doorkeepers; to the policemen; and of all—this is the one with which I want to finish—our Clerk and those who have occasionally stood in for him. If this Bill had been left, dare I say it, Minister, to you and me, it would have got into the House 75 per cent. as you would have wanted it to be. The Clerks ensure that it is 100 per cent. as it should be and, for that, very many thanks are due.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at fourteen minutes past Five o'clock.