Clause 45

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 31st January 2008.

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Objectives of the Regulator

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Liberal Democrat, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey

The consideration of this clause gives us an opportunity to ask for the Minister’s reflections on a point relating to the objectives of the Pensions Regulator. Obviously, the regulator’s involvement with personal accounts has been widely welcomed, not just in this Committee and the House, but by stakeholder groups. The clause inserts a new objective for the Pensions Regulator to maximise compliance with the duties set out in chapter 1 of the Bill, which makes a great deal of sense. The Pensions Regulator has a very high reputation. It has been seen to carry out its present functions very successfully, and those whom it regulates have a great deal of confidence in it.

The only misgiving of any sort that has been expressed to me—by industry groups, for example—relates to the role of the regulator with regard to its new objective. Will the new objective in any way distract from the regulator’s existing objectives? Clearly, Liberal Democrat Members would not want that to be the case—nor, I am sure, would the Minister. The Pensions Regulator should be able to carry out its existing functions and objectives unimpeded by the new objective.

Will the Minister assure me that appropriate additional resources will be made available to the regulator to enable it to carry out the duties that it will have under the new objective in such a way that it will not have to wind down or squeeze its existing functions to make  more resources available to carry out the duties described in the Bill? I hope that I know what the Minister will say, but it is important that such questions are answered on record to ensure that confidence is maintained.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman makes extremely good points and I share his concern. We need to provide reassurance to the pensions industry that the excellent work done by the Pensions Regulator, in the role that it has adopted up to now of giving greater confidence regarding pensions, will continue unabated, and that the new work that it will take on to ensure that automatic enrolment is carried out will be properly done in addition to its current work, rather than distracting from that. It would be tragic if there were any serious distraction from that important existing role. I have had meetings with the regulator’s senior management, who are confident that they will be able to carry out their new duties and maintain the quality of work that they have done up to now in protecting and overseeing the pensions system as a whole. The objective of the new changes to which the hon. Gentleman refers is to give a number of different obligations to the regulator. Basically, the changes are designed to ensure that employers comply with their new duties. The key duties are automatically enrolling eligible qualifying jobholders into a qualifying pension scheme; informing the regulator about how they satisfy that duty; and paying pension contributions to the schemes.

The work that the regulator will do on such matters should not be unduly onerous—it will basically be collecting and managing data—but there should be intervention when there is a failure to comply with the requirements of the Bill. The Pensions Regulator will discuss such issues as resources with us in the coming months. I am not going to write any blank cheques, but I have given assurances that I do not want the Pensions Regulator to be distracted from its current role. I want to ensure that the regulator has the appropriate resources to enable it to perform its new role, without causing any difficulty in the old role.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for enabling me to give such resources. I share his concerns and objectives and hope that we will be able to create the new role for the regulator in a way that means that there is just as much confidence in that new role as has been gained in the old one.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 46 to 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.