Pensions Bill

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Clause 150

Fraud Compensation Fund

Amendments made: No. 392, in

    clause 150, page 94, line 9, leave out 'and'.

No. 393, in

    clause 150, page 94, line 10, at end insert

    ', and

    ( ) any income or capital gain credited under subsection (2).'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Clause 150, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 151 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 152

Information to be provided to the Board

Amendment made: No. 394, in

    clause 152, page 95, line 14, leave out from 'provide' to 'information' in line 15 and insert '—

    (a) to the Board, or

    (b) to a person—

    (i) with whom the Board has made arrangements under paragraph 17A of Schedule 5, and

    (ii) who is authorised by the Board for the purposes of the regulations,'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Mr. Waterson: I beg to move amendment No. 412, in

    clause 152, page 95, line 16, at end insert

    'and in so far as the information is relevant to the discharge of its function.'.

Clause 152 takes the prize in a Bill that, despite its length, is short on crucial detail. When I read it this morning, I wondered whether it was an April fool hoax on the part of the Government. To say that subsection (1) does not give much away is a massive understatement. It says:

    ''Regulations may require such persons as may be prescribed to provide to the Board information of a prescribed description at such times, or in such circumstances, as may be prescribed.''

That is a little like going to the chemist. It contains three different sets of regulations. The Committee now knows what I shall say before I say it: I accept that there is no danger of seeing any draft regulations. I suppose that we might tease out of the Minister vaguely how his mind works, but it is an extraordinary clause and the potential jackboots that are inherent in it need removing. That is why we want to insert the words,

    ''and in so far as the information is relevant to the discharge of its function.''

The clause gives almost limitless powers to the board to require information. Even though clause 153 contains similar wording, it is imperative that such a vast potential power under clause 152 has some limit upon it. I hope that the Minister accepts the force and wisdom of that argument.

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Malcolm Wicks: We are not in a joking mood and the clause is not an April fool. Regulations under clause 152 will require specified people to provide specified information to the board or its agent, in certain specified circumstances. The amendment would clarify that the regulations may make provision only in respect of information that relates to the board's functions. Although the other information clauses specify that the data that the board gathers must be relevant to its functions, it is not considered necessary to make similar provision under clause 152.

The clause is designed to ensure that certain people automatically provide the board with information at specified times, including information that is required to calculate individual entitlement.

3.30 pm

Let me give two examples of what the regulations will cover. First, individuals will be required to inform the board of a change in their circumstances. For example, a surviving dependant should send notification of death to the board. Secondly, the regulations may require groups, such as insolvency practitioners, trustees or employers, to notify the board when they receive information that is relevant to the exercise of the board's functions. That regulation-making power is required in addition to the other information-gathering clauses because the board cannot trawl for information. Instead, individuals will be required to provide information automatically to the board.

We fully support the amendment's intention. I assure Committee members that regulations under clause 152 will refer only to information that is relevant to the board's functions. On that basis, it is not considered to be necessary to specify that. I hope that with that reassurance, the hon. Gentleman, being a reasonable man, will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Waterson: I am not remotely reassured. We shall all tremble in fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night on the basis of provisions in the clause. This is extraordinary drafting. However, if we divided on it, we would lose, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 395, in

    clause 152, page 95, line 20, at end insert—

    '( ) Regulations made by virtue of paragraph (b) of that subsection must make provision regarding the manner in which the persons required to provide information are to be notified of the identity of the person authorised as mentioned in sub-paragraph (ii) of that paragraph.'.—[Mr. Pond.]

Clause 152, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 153

Notices requiring provision of information

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

Mr. Waterson: I have some legitimate concerns about the extent of the clause's provisions. Subsection (2)(b) is about notices being given by the board and also by

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    ''a person authorised by the Board for the purposes of this section in relation to the scheme.''

What kind of people will they be? There is an issue with paragraph (b), which refers to professional advisers

    ''in relation to the scheme''.

To what extent are they covered by professional privilege?

An interesting point has been raised with me. Clause 234 deals with information given to a professional legal adviser—a term covering solicitors and barristers, and their equivalents in Scotland. Is it also intended to cover anyone appointed under section 47(1) of the 1995 Act? If that is the intention, it will bring into the provision some non-lawyers, such as firms of benefit consultants, who may, out of an abundance of caution, have been appointed as legal advisers for section 47 purposes. That counts as an unintended consequence, but it is a specific issue that must be addressed.

Malcolm Wicks: Clause 153 should be viewed in conjunction with the other PPF information-gathering provisions, which will enable the board to gather the data that it will need to carry out its functions. Under the clause, individuals involved with a scheme will be required to disclose information that is relevant to that scheme on notice in writing from the PPF, or someone acting on its behalf. Other people who are authorised might include actuaries or a property expert. The notice must specify what information is required and how it must be produced, including the time limit for its production. As always, the board may only gather information that is relevant to its functions. This power is targeted at gathering information during the assessment period. For example, in order to carry out its valuation, the board may wish to ask the employer to provide information that is necessary to calculate individual entitlement.

Because the matter emerged earlier in our proceedings, I should like to confirm that legal professional privilege will not be breached. That is set out in clause 234.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 153 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 154

Entry of premises

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

Mr. Waterson: As you know, Mr. Cran, Conservatives are natural defenders of people's legal and human rights, so we are always very worried about clauses with headings such as ''Entry of premises''. That is particularly the case in this instance, as this clause is in the same part of the Bill as the infamous clause 152.

On any view, clause 154 is very widely drawn; it relates to any premises where documents relevant to the employer are kept even if there is no direct evidence that there are any documents to do with the pension scheme in those premises. Presumably, the offices of any advisers to the employer will be included.

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Does the clause also enable the board to appear at the premises of a newspaper that is carrying out an investigation into the employer or its funding position in order to obtain relevant documents?

There will need to be some high Chinese walls between those involved in the investigative parts of the PPF—the people who abseil down buildings to get information—and those giving advice or directions on investments. Does the Minister have any comments on that concern?

My final point echoes one made in relation to an earlier amendment. Subsection (5) states that documents

    ''may be retained until the end of the period''.

There is a basic 12-month period, with extensions. Inherent in that should be the requirement that any such document can be retained unless, on reflection, it is clearly irrelevant to the investigation. Perhaps we should table an amendment to that effect. We have all seen footage of dawn raids by organisations such as the Office of Fair Trading, which seem to have a remarkable ability to hoover up masses of stuff, some of which turns out later to have nothing to do with their investigations. I am sure the Minister agrees that we cannot allow people to go on fishing expeditions, as lawyers persist in calling them.

Malcolm Wicks: The clause allows the board to appoint a person who may enter scheme premises to gather information in relation to the functions of the PPF. That is not the same as an inspection in the sense of the regulator provision. It will be routine for the board to visit premises, normally with prior appointment, during the assessment period. That is necessary because once a scheme's employer has entered insolvency proceedings, an assessment period will commence.

During that period, the board will carry out a valuation of the assets and liabilities of the scheme, which will be used to inform the decision as to whether that scheme should enter the PPF. The power to enter premises will in that case simply allow actuaries and other professionals to gather the information necessary for that valuation. That is why the board will appoint a person who is authorised to enter premises where information in relation to that scheme may be held. That is similar to an auditor entering premises to view documents, gather data and ask questions. It is vital that the board can carry out the valuation and that it has accurate information to enable it to do so. However, it will not have unrestricted powers; it may only gather information that is relevant to its involvement in that scheme.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman, as I tend to do on these occasions. We do not anticipate that a crack squad from the PPF will abseil down the building occupied by the Eastbourne Bugle and storm its offices; that is not our intention.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 154 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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