Clause 50

Part of Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:00 pm on 31st January 2008.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 1:00 pm, 31st January 2008

The Minister can read it out himself with the proper emphasis. I do not know whether you have ever seen the film “Downfall”, Mrs Anderson, about the last days of Hitler in the bunker, but the situation is reminiscent of the phantom divisions that were sent out to attack the Red Army and that were told not to come back alive if they did not win.

We still have a contradiction here. Let me stress that the official Opposition want the scheme to start on time. We want it up and running in 2012. Earlier would be nice, but nobody who has met Mr. Jones could be anything but persuaded by his massive competence and experience in these matters and by the extent to which he and his chairman, Paul Myners, appreciate the scale of the task they are facing. Nothing quite like this has ever been tried before, which I recall is a line from the movie “A Bridge Too Far,” but we will not go down that route.

So it is a massive challenge. There is still a missing link between what the Minister told Mr. Jones and what Mr. Jones told Paul Lewis. Very honestly, like any successful man of business, Mr. Jones has apparently initiated a review in his new job. He has the office furniture, he has the chairman, he has one or two non-execs, and things are gradually picking up, but he has reviewed the state of play. I have the impression that that review is taking a while, and it has certainly not been concluded yet. I would like the Minister to tell us about his understanding of the situation, because despite the slightly greater confidence that Mr. Jones exuded when he came to this Committee compared with the confidence that he exuded at the end of last month, he is clearly still in the midst of this review.

Perhaps the Minister will share with the Committee what he has been told about how the review is going, including when it is likely to be concluded, what the preliminary indications are, and whether he will publish the advice he gets when Mr. Jones’s review is finished. The eyes of the world are on us and, in particular, Mr. Jones. I have stressed our support for getting on with it in 2012, but the only thing that is worse than not starting on time is having a botched start, which is clearly something that concerns Mr. Jones.

The brief from the Equality and Human Rights Commission states:

“Like the Conservatives, we are keen to see personal accounts ready to commence in April 2012. We are extremely supportive of the new accounts and the benefit that they offer to the target market. It is imperative that the new scheme is in operation as soon as possible to allow people the opportunity to save for their retirement in a way that is not offered by the savings products currently on the market.”

I agree with every word of that. Indeed, the Minister’s own predecessor, now his new boss, made quite a good speech a little while ago when he was in the pensions job, making the point about what we might call the “planning blight” on people’s pension savings between now and 2012. There will be a significant period between now and then when people will still not be saving for their retirement. Such people will miss out on several years’ contributions, the benefit of which they will never be able to make up.

Frankly, the guy in the saloon bar who finds pensions difficult and puzzling will have another excuse for not doing anything at the moment, because he has read that in 2012 it will all be sorted. I am very interested in what the Minister has to say, particularly about Mr. Jones’s ongoing review.