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 Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Liberal Democrat, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 1:00 pm, 31st January 2008

I, too, heard the comments on the “Money Box” programme that the hon. Gentleman has read out. Being, no doubt, as keen a listener as him—I am sure that all members of the Committee are regular listeners to that programme—I was perplexed and concerned by Mr. Jones’s comments. In due course, Mr. Jones corrected those comments. Perhaps he did not do so as quickly as Admiral West, but it had happened when he gave evidence to this Committee.

Tim Jones is someone with a huge amount of professional skill and is held in the highest esteem and respect by those people he previously worked with, and so the amendment being debated should not be seen in any way as casting doubt on the competence of Mr. Jones and his team at PADA. The question is, if there were doubts in his mind—and he, no doubt, has discussed these with the Minister, and the Minister has reassured him, no doubt, about the deliverability of the timetable—then it is important that the Minister shares the pressures that may exist in terms of meeting quite a tight timescale.

As I understand it, there are a number of steps that need to be completed over that four-year period in order to ensure that the personal accounts scheme can be up and running. The contracting process for the administrative software and people to actually run the administration of the account, because it is quite naturally subject to European Union rules—we return to those and, no doubt, will return to the European Union again at some point—about public procurement. This is a process that—I understand from the procurement side of this—will take at least 14 months, and possibly longer, before that commissioning is completed. I guess, probably quite naturally, that commissioning process cannot start until this Bill has become law.

So there is a situation where, in an unknown period, this Bill will become law—I guess the Minister is hoping for May or June, when it has completed its passage in both houses. There is a period of slightly less than four years, in which that commissioning process has to be undertaken successfully, the team to put it in place has to be recruited and so on—which will take a bit of time—and then there obviously has to be appropriate testing to ensure that the system works perfectly before the start date of the scheme.

There are clearly some significant practical hurdles and tight deadlines that have to be kept to along the way to ensure the target date of 1 April 2012 is met. It seems to be me to be quite right that it should be met but, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) has quite rightly said, only one thing would be worse than missing the deadline, and that would be a botched launch.

It is quite right that the Minister should have to reassure the Committee that he is satisfied that there is sufficient time for all those practical steps I have  described, and no doubt many other steps along the way to ensure the successful launch of PADA, to be met in the timescale—which will be slightly less than four years by the time this Bill, if it does, receives Royal Assent—so that we can be sure that the deadline the Government have quite rightly set for the launch of the scheme can actually be met.