Clause 49

Part of Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 31st January 2008.

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions 10:15 am, 31st January 2008

I am not sure the suggestion the hon. Gentleman makes, which is that pension issues cannot be discussed in initial discussions, would fall short of a pre-employment right. We therefore need to approach this with some caution. He is right that we are adopting a course which is inelegant and is perhaps not ideal. We all know that we would rather take the course of action that he suggests in general terms, but the breach of the broad principle that there are no pre-employment rights is regarded by employers as an enormously important one—mainly because it could lead to a lot of other demands. There is a view in industrial relations circles that there is essentially a balance between employers and trade unions and employees that needs to be very carefully maintained. While this particular change might not, of itself, damage that balance, other things might then flow from it and that balance might be undermined.

It is a tricky situation and I understand why the hon. Gentleman feels uncomfortable with the position. But it is one that we have negotiated and it is, in a sense, part of what we have talked about in the past—a consensus whereby we have got the employers on board to support this. A number of compromises have been made—the TUC, for example, wanted to bring employment rights and they have accepted that this compromise, although not what they wanted, is one with which they can live.