Penalties relating to sections 153 and 154
Amendment made: No. 396, in
Clause 155, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Malcolm Wicks: It will help if I speak to this clause, albeit briefly. It relates to warrants and it is important to put the Government's intention on the record.
In extreme circumstances, the board's power to gather information may be ineffective. For example, it may believe that if it asked for certain data they would be removed or destroyed. In such circumstances, there is a safeguard and the board may apply to a justice of the peace for a warrant to enter premises, using reasonable force if necessary, and to search for and take possession of documents or copies of documents.
The justice of the peace will issue a warrant only if he or she is satisfied on the basis of the information given to the board on oath that certain conditions are met. That will ensure that in extreme circumstances, when the board is being obstructed from gathering information, it can enforce compliance, which might prevent vital evidence from being destroyed. However, it is intended that the board will apply for a warrant only in the most serious of cases, such as if there is evidence to suggest that there is considerable risk of documents being altered or destroyed, or if requests for documents under clauses 153 and 154 have not been complied with. It is recognised that in the vast majority of cases, scheme trustees and other individuals will provide the information requested, which means that the powers will be used very sparingly.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 156 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 157 and 158 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Amendment made: No. 397, in
Clause 159, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 160 to 162 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Column Number: 611
Restricted information held by the Board: certain permitted disclosures to facilitate exercise of functions
Question proposed, That this schedule be the eighth schedule to the Bill.
Mr. Osborne: This is a small point, and I am sure that everyone is keen to get on. It will be interesting to know why there is a distinction between the information that can be passed to the pensions ombudsman and the information that can be passed to the ombudsman for the board of the pension protection fund. We shall talk about ombudsmen, perhaps when we get back from Easter, depending on when the Committee adjourns. However, it is interesting that there is a limit on the information that should go to the pensions ombudsman. Given that there is no limit on the information that goes to the pensions regulator, the Bank of England, the Auditor General and so on, why the restriction on the information that goes to the pensions ombudsman?
Mr. Pond: Perhaps I should explain that under clause 162, to which schedule 8 relates, the board may disclose information to a limited number of public and regulatory bodies to facilitate the exercise of certain functions. The schedule contains the details of those bodies and which functions are to be included. The organisations are specified in the first column of the schedule, and disclosure would be permitted only if it would enable or assist that body in the exercise of specific functions, which are listed in the second column.
Throughout our debates on the information clauses, we discussed the fact that the board will need the power to gather and disclose information in limited circumstances. We do not wish to create a situation in which two bodies are unable to share information that would be relevant to both their functions. That could restrict the effectiveness of both bodies, while increasing the administrative burden for everyone involved.
On the PPF ombudsman, there is, of course, an independent right of appeal for PPF-related matters. The ombudsman can ask for information and, under those circumstances, that transfer of information would be covered by separate arrangements.
Mr. Osborne: I think that the Under-Secretary misunderstands me. I totally understand why the ombudsman for the board of the PPF can receive information; that is not my question. My question is why the pensions ombudsman—a separate ombudsman—can receive only a limited amount of information, and certainly does not have the same degree of disclosure enjoyed by the Bank of England, the pensions regulator, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Auditor General for Wales, the Auditor General for Scotland, the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland and the Counter Fraud and Security Management Service.
Mr. Pond: I had indeed misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's question, and I apologise for that. I do
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not wish to detain the Committee for too long by replying in detail to it now, so perhaps I could write to him.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 8 agreed to.
Other permitted disclosures
Amendments made: No. 68, in
clause 163, page 101, leave out lines 20 and 21 and insert—
'(a) by or on behalf of—
(i) the Board, 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 Board,
for any of the purposes specified in section 17(2)(a) to (d) of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) (criminal proceedings and investigations),'.
No. 69, in
clause 163, page 101, line 22, leave out 'other'.
No. 70, in
clause 163, page 102, line 32, at end insert—
'( ) Section 18 of the Anti-terrorism, 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 163, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Disclosure of information by the
Amendment made: No. 71, in
Clause 164, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 165 and 166 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I beg to move, That further consideration be now adjourned.
Malcolm Wicks: I believe that it is the convention that the motion to adjourn is debatable. I will not argue against my hon. Friend's suggestion, but the hon. Member for Eastbourne raised a point of order at the beginning of our proceedings this morning—[Interruption]—as he eagerly recalls, and I would like to respond briefly to his questions. As I come from what I call the Department for Work, where we believe in the work ethic, I believe that there is no reason why we should not debate this subject long into the evening, but that may not be universally popular.
I would like to clarify our proposed timetable for discussing our remaining new clauses. As hon. Members are aware, we have tabled new clauses relating to the pensions ombudsman and additional voluntary contributions. We had hoped to table more new clauses before the Easter recess, but I regret that
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that has not proved possible. We therefore plan to table further new clauses during the recess. I am advised—although you may have better information, Mr. Cran—that amendments tabled before Thursday 15 April will be printed in the Order Paper on Friday 16 April. Amendments tabled on 16 April will appear on the Order Paper on 19 April and, I understand, will not be starred when we reconvene on 20 April.
Of course, I recognise that that leaves members of the Committee in a difficult position regarding notice of Government amendments. To try to help them with that, I will send copies of the amendments and briefing notes to hon. Members as they are tabled. As previously discussed, we are still aiming to table a number of amendments relating to subjects announced in the action document in June 2003 but not yet included in the Bill. Those include changes to section 67 of the Pensions Act 1995, which relates to the modification of the accrued rights of members of occupational pension schemes. The amendment would enable schemes to rationalise existing arrangements and reduce administration costs and complexity, provided that certain safeguards are in place.
A new power will require employers to consult affected active members and/or their representatives on key major changes to future pension arrangements. Amendments will also relate to the transfer and preservation provisions in the Pensions Act 1995, which include a measure for people who change jobs regularly, to flexible retirement provisions enabling employees to draw a pension while continuing to work and contribute, and to the age at which deferred pensions can be taken in schemes in which the normal retirement age is below 60. That links with changes in pension age in public service schemes.
Additionally, as I indicated earlier, we shall table some further amendments relating to the pensions regulator, which deal with pensions liberation—pensions ''liberation'' is not as nice as it sounds; it is something that we do not really like. They will also give new powers to the regulator to keep pace with constantly evolving unlawful practice. There will also be amendments to enable the regulator to appoint and maintain a register of approved independent trustees.
We also intend to table new clauses dealing with moral hazard, to provide adequate protection against the manipulation of liabilities by employers that wish to take unfair advantage of the pension protection fund. Further PPF-related amendments will give the PPF the power to publish reports, provide limitations on investment powers and ensure parity of treatment for members of schemes that do not enter the pension protection fund because of their funding position.
I do not expect that this afternoon's debate is over, although we are discussing a motion to adjourn, but in case I do not have an opportunity to speak again, may I wish you, Mr. Cran, and Mr. Griffiths in his absence, and all Committee colleagues and supporting officials a happy Easter?