Select Committee on Treasury Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence



  This report provides an instructive example of both the GAD's independence and the dangers of ministerial interference. Section 36—a new clause moved by Baroness Castle and Baroness Turner on the third reading of the Bill on 19 July 2000—required the Government Actuary or his Deputy to report on the effect of increasing the basic pension in line with earnings in each year up to 2005-06. The report was to be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State.

  The clause was accepted by the Government but, when it was discussed in the House of Commons on 24 July, the Minister, Mr Rooker, said:

    "There will be a report at the earliest available opportunity, which is likely to be in January. That is when the normal report on uprating appears ... It is not practical to produce a report for when we return from the recess."

  The implication of this statement was that, conveniently for the Government, the report would appear too late to influence its decision on the April 2001 uprating, which would normally be announced in November. But the Minister's statement also appeared to imply that the timing of the report would be decided by him rather than by the Government Actuary.

  Following this statement, a number of organisations and individuals wrote to the Minister, the Government Actuary or both, urging that the report should be submitted to the Secretary of State without undue delay and pointing out that the GAD and not the DSS was responsible for its timing. On 25 September 2000, the Southwark Pensioners' Action Group wrote to the Deputy Government Actuary, Mr Andrew Young, asking about the likely date of completion of the report. He replied on 28 September: "The report . . . is now at a very advanced state and I am hoping to be able to submit it to the Secretary of State next week"—leaving ample time for it to be laid before Parliament when business resumed after the recess, on 23 October.

  This did not happen. Instead, in a written answer on 26 October, Mr Rooker stated that the Government Actuary was "currently finalising his report" and that it would be published when completed. On 3 November, replying to a letter from Lady Castle, the Government Actuary confirmed that he had submitted the report in the week ended 6 October and that the Secretary of State had asked him to "complete the report by adding a further section to take account of the Government's proposals for uprating in April 2001 . . . in time for him to lay the report when he sets out his proposals to Parliament next week". The report was published on 9 November. In his covering letter, the Government Actuary described it as "a revised report".

  It seems clear that the Minister initially tried to dissuade the Government Actuary from producing a separate report under section 36, which would have shown that restoration of the earnings link was affordable at least for the next five years; but the Government Actuary, giving his responsibility to Parliament priority over the Minister's wishes, proceeded to submit his report in the first week of October. Instead of laying it before Parliament, the Secretary of State sent it back to be "completed". The revised report published on 9 November, however, included the figures from the original report, as well as the revised figures taking the April 2001 uprating into account. The Government Actuary had successfully defended his professional independence but it is regrettable that he should have had to do so.

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Prepared 27 March 2001