Pensions Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 7th February 2008.

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[Janet Andersonin the Chair]

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 1:00 pm, 7th February 2008

On a point of order, Mrs. Anderson. It is a great pleasure to have you back in the Chair. You were in the Chair on 29 January when I raised in the Committee the issue of the Government’s promised amendments on the financial assistance scheme. In the light of this morning’s Court of Appeal judgment—the Government lost, again, and were heavily criticised by the Lords Justices—it is particularly relevant that we find out how the drafting is coming along.

While I am about it, could I also ask where we are with the draft regulations? Any would be nice. I do not think that we have seen a single line of draft regulations, yet the Bill is peppered with clauses calling for regulations. Perhaps the Minister could help me out as I have given him prior warning of this point of order.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

The hon. Gentleman would agree that that is more a question to the Minister than a point of order. Does the Minister wish to respond?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eastbourne for giving me notice of his point of order. I will respond in a little detail because I know that he wants clarification on this and I will try to give it.

In oral evidence to the Committee on 17 January, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Pensions Reform said that we were focused on delivering the package of improvements to the financial assistance scheme as quickly as possible and that, to that end, we would be looking to use existing powers to make changes by regulations, wherever possible.

My hon. and learned Friend said that as a first step we would be bringing forward a set of regulations in March to increase payments to 90 per cent. from the current 80 per cent., and from normal retirement age. He proposed a short two-week consultation, subject to the views of Opposition Members and others. We are grateful that that has subsequently been agreed.

Those regulations are currently being drafted and the supporting explanations are being prepared. We expect the two-week consultation period on them to begin on 6 March. During that period, we will conduct face-to-face consultation with key stakeholders, including trade unions and members of the Pensions Action Group.

In the meantime, we will today be tabling a new clause to the Bill. This will extend the definition of those who can qualify for the FAS to include those  whose schemes are still winding up, but who would otherwise have received their benefits in full from the scheme. This is necessary because to take over all members’ assets, we will need the power to make FAS payments to them so that we can pay them what they would have expected to receive from their scheme. There will be an opportunity to consider the matter in more detail when we discuss this new clause after the forthcoming short recess.

In the letter sent to all Members last Friday, my hon. and learned Friend said that we were considering where other small adjustments might be needed to existing powers to deliver all elements of the package of improvements to FAS, and that there might be a need for a few further changes to be made via the Bill, when it goes to the other place for consideration. However, the vast majority of the changes necessary to deliver the package can be made via regulations.

We intend to publish a further set of draft regulations before the end of March, which will make provision for other key elements of the package, such as early retirement on ill-health grounds. There will be a final package of regulations later in the year to deliver the remaining parts of the package that will move us to a position in which financial assistance payments are calculated on a basis that is broadly comparable with the Pension Protection Fund.

I hope that that provides a thorough answer on the matter of regulations in respect of the FAS and other parts of the Bill. I can tell the hon. Member for Eastbourne that we are discussing—and even considering—the content of those with the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority, and it is quite right that we should do so. They will therefore be brought forward as soon as is practically possible.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of the court judgment was a bit slanted. If he looks at the judgment in detail, he will see that there is very much support for the Government’s position with respect to many of the matters under consideration. With regard to the rest of it, we are considering leave to appeal at the moment.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

Further to that point of order, Mrs. Anderson. May I just clarify one point? The Minister says that he is going to table a new clause today. The House is not sitting tomorrow, or indeed next week, so I assume that that clause will not be printed until we return after the break. It will therefore probably not be debateable until the Thursday of the week after next, at the earliest. Will the Minister undertake to let all members of the Committee know—

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

Order. It is my understanding that if the new clause is tabled today, it will be printed tomorrow, so it will be available. It is clear from the Minister’s very detailed response that there will be the opportunity to have this discussion after the short break, so I think that we should move on.

Clause 73 ordered to stand part of the Bill.