Clause 35

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 29th January 2008.

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Review of notices

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I beg to move amendment No. 146, in clause 35, page 16, line 1, at end insert—

‘(f) a notice under section 72 of the Pensions Act 2004 (c. 35) (provision of information).’.

The amendment was tabled because it appeared that the list of notices to which a review may be applied appears to have left out the notice cited in clause 33(1)(d):

“a notice under section 72 of the Pensions Act 2004...(provision of information).”

I am sure the Minister will tell me there is a very good legal reason for that being left out, but I was curious when I compared clause 33, which sets out a full list of different compliance notices to which escalating penalties apply, with clause 35, in which the notice in clause 33(1)(d) has been left out. I am sure that I am about to be reassured by the Minister, but I thought that the issue was worth raising, as it is certainly not clear to me.

Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

I would not bank on it.

The Pensions Regulator has the power to review all notices of issues as part of the new compliance regime. These are compliance notices, third-party notices, unpaid contribution notices, and fixed and escalating penalty notices. The Pensions Regulator will have the power to confirm, vary or revoke notices, or to substitute a different notice if it feels that is appropriate. Cases in which sanctions for failure to produce information have been applied incorrectly—for example, if the required information had actually been provided—would therefore be corrected through the review process.

A section 72 notice, as set out in the Pensions Act 2004, is a notice requiring trustees, scheme managers, employers and others who appear to hold relevant information to provide specified information to the regulator. The important point is that this is an evidence-gathering power only. It gives the regulator the power to require from the person information that is relevant to the exercise of its functions. It is not a sanction in its own right—that is the difference. A separate notice has to be issued to penalise those who fail to comply with a section 72 notice. We therefore do not consider it appropriate to have a review process under clause 35 for people served with a section 72 notice.

Allowing a review process for section 72 notices could impair the regulator’s efficiency when gathering information. In our view, it is inappropriate to allow people to hinder the notice’s use by invoking procedures for review and appeal. It is, however, necessary to give a safeguard to someone who is at risk of being penalised for refusing to comply. Fixed penalty notices under clause 32 and escalating penalty notices under clause 33 may be issued for failure to comply with notices requiring the production of information issued under section 72 of the 2004 Act. As I have explained, review is already available at the point at which anyone may face sanctions for failure to provide information. Given that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I like to think that these little exchanges are causing the odd shaft of sunlight to come down on some more obscure parts of pensions legislation. I am sure that people who follow our proceedings carefully will have been very enlightened by what the Minister had to say. I am grateful to him, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.