Pensions Bill

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 36 to 40, and 68 to 71.

Mr. Pond: These amendments are fairly technical and non-contentious, so if the Committee is happy with them, I shall not make a speech about them.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 36, in

    clause 57, page 37, line 7, at end insert—

    '( ) Section 18 of the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) (restriction on disclosure of information for overseas purposes) has effect in relation to a disclosure authorised by subsection (2) as it has effect in relation to a disclosure authorised by any of the provisions to which section 17 of that Act applies.'.—[Mr. Pond.]

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Clause 57, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 59

Disclosure for facilitating exercise of functions by the Board

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Waterson: It may be helpful if I mention my concerns first, and the Under-Secretary then helps me, rather than doing things the other way round.

I am rather bemused by clause 59. I do not know whether it is just an example of sloppy drafting, but it is bizarre. Some tight rules are, quite properly, set out on the disclosure of information. We talked in previous debates about how important it is to have rules governing that. Opposition Members even tried to introduce amendments about the consequences, such as compensation or damages, if information were disclosed improperly or inappropriately. However, having gone to all that trouble, I find it odd that the clause seems to drive a coach and horses through the rest of this part of the Bill.

The clause says that despite section 56—currently clause 56, which we debated last week and which is fairly clear—restricted information can still be disclosed

    ''for the purpose of enabling or assisting the Board of the Pension Protection Fund to exercise its functions.''

Perhaps we will get an echo of that when we come to the clauses dealing with the PPF. However, on what basis can it decide to disclose information that would not normally be other than restricted? If it is to have that power, should it not be set out in some detail in this part of the Bill? Is not this an attempt by a draftsman to leave a large opening to allow the previous clauses, particularly clause 56, to be trampled over in a relevant case? I am rather puzzled about the purpose of the clause, and I should be grateful for the Under-Secretary's help.

Mr. Pond: My apologies to the Committee if my voice sounds as if I am speaking through a pillow this morning. The purpose of the clause is fairly straightforward. There was some discussion last week about the relationship between the regulator and the board of the pension protection fund. All that we are seeking to do through the clause is ensure that the information that is transferred is protected. Any restricted information provided to the regulator, or to any person by the regulator, must not be disclosed unless it has the consent of the information provider, or the person to whom it relates. Information provided to the regulator by the Inland Revenue must not be disclosed without prior consent from the commissioners of the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise.

We are trying to ensure that during the transfer of information between the regulator and the board of the pension protection fund—which the Committee agreed last week was necessary and sensible, because it allowed the PPF to perform its functions and

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protected members' interests—there is a flow of information with proper safeguards built in to its use and information providers are protected.

I hope that that clarifies what we are trying to do with clause 59.

Mr. Waterson: Not entirely. However, I do not want to press the pillow more firmly onto the Under-Secretary's face, so for the moment I shall let that go.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3

Restricted information held by the Regulator: certain permitted disclosures to facilitate exercise of functions.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the third schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Webb: The first column of the schedule lists the persons to whom information may be disclosed and the second lists the functions in relation to which they may act as recipients of such information. The last body listed is the Gaming Board for Great Britain. I was a little bit puzzled about why it could get information from the pensions regulator for functions under the Gaming Act 1968 or the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976. Perhaps the Under-Secretary could tell us why.

9.45 am

Mr. Pond: I rather suspected that that question would be raised. Currently, in relation to the Gaming Board for Great Britain, a trustee suspected of theft from pension funds who also holds a gaming licence—an example of this did occur—would not be within the reach of the tentacles of the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority because the authority would be unable to disclose that fact to the Gaming Board. Unless a criminal offence is clearly being committed, OPRA with its current powers cannot disclose information, even though there is a clear irregularity. It is because of that example that the Gaming Board is listed in schedule 3.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 61

Other permitted disclosures

Amendments made: No. 37, in

    clause 61, page 38, leave out lines 11 and 12 and insert—

    '(a) by or on behalf of—

    (i) the Regulator, or

    (ii) any public authority (within the meaning of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c.42)) which receives the information directly or indirectly from the Regulator,

    for any of the purposes specified in section 17(2)(a) to (d) of the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) (criminal proceedings and investigations),'.

No. 38, in

    clause 61, page 38, line 13, leave out 'other'.

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No. 39, in

    clause 61, page 39, line 27, at end insert—

    '( ) Section 18 of the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) (restriction on disclosure of information for overseas purposes) has effect in relation to a disclosure authorised by subsection (2) as it has effect in relation to a disclosure authorised by any of the provisions to which section 17 of that Act applies.'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Clause 61, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 62

Disclosure of information by the Inland Revenue

Amendment made: No. 40, in

    clause 62, page 39, line 37, after '(2)' insert

    'above or section 19 of the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) (disclosure of information held by revenue departments)'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Waterson: I am interested in another point of clarification. I am always intensely nervous about provisions that allow different agencies to swap information, and I am even more nervous when one of those agencies is the Inland Revenue—

Mr. Webb: Is the hon. Gentleman declaring an interest?

Mr. Waterson: I am not declaring an interest in this instance—not so far, anyway. We should not pass this sort of provision on the nod, because the principle is important. I am open to all the arguments about tracking down fraudsters and detecting benefit claimants' unjustified claims, but we have to be careful whenever we allow such pooling of information.

The clause refers to information moving in one direction, from the Inland Revenue to the regulator. I am not sure where the equivalent provision is for information going from the regulator or the PPF to the Inland Revenue—no doubt the Under-Secretary will able to point that out if it is in the Bill; we may have just passed it. I am sure that there is a two-way street.

Can the Under-Secretary tell the Committee what the limits are, in regulation or primary legislation, on the Inland Revenue giving this sort of information to the regulator? I am not suggesting that the new improved regulator should not receive information that is crucial to the issues that it will be tackling, but I assume that Inland Revenue legislation quite properly restricts the nature of the information that the revenue can pass to outside bodies such as the regulator. That is my sole concern.

Mr. Pond: We shall continue our pillow talk on these matters. The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that there is a two-way street. As he will be aware, clause 62 largely replicates section 109 of the Pensions Act 1995 and relates to the disclosure of information by the Inland Revenue to the regulator. It provides that the Inland Revenue will not be bound by the restrictions imposed by section 182 of the Finance Act 1989, so long as the information is used by the

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regulator to discharge its functions. The regulator must treat information disclosed to it by the Inland Revenue as restricted information. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman's question in part. The regulator must not disclose that information unless the commissioners of the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise have given permission or—this is only a slight difference—for the purposes of any criminal proceedings.

Perhaps it would help the Committee if I gave an example of the type of criminal proceedings that we have in mind. Some offences that relate to pension schemes are not offences under the pensions legislation—theft, for example. We want to ensure that information disclosed by the Inland Revenue to the regulator can be used in criminal proceedings for such offences. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be keen to know what type of tax information may be relevant to the regulator's functions, and I am eager to enlighten him. Tax information could, for example, be details of how many employees an employer has. The hon. Member for Northavon, who has expressed considerable interest in those matters in our earlier proceedings, will know that employee numbers are relevant to enable the regulator to check whether an employer is required to designate a stakeholder scheme.

On the specific point about the gateway to the regulator from the Inland Revenue, I am advised that that is specified in the list in schedule 3—page 177, line 10. Any information that the regulator receives from the Inland Revenue under clause 62 must be treated as restricted information. I hope that that will give sufficient reassurance to the hon. Member for Eastbourne, despite his anxiety about any involvement of the Inland Revenue in the receipt of information.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 62, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

 
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