Pensions Bill

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Mr. Waterson: I agree that the Government amendments are drafting amendments, technical in nature, and we have no problems with them. On new clause 24, I do not profess to understand the distinction drawn by the lords justices in the Britannic case, although, having once been tangentially involved in a case about a missing comma involving a ship charter party that went all the way to the House of Lords, I know that anything is possible. This is clearly something that exercises the ombudspeople's community; when ombudspeople meet—at the golf club or anywhere else—it is something that they often talk about. There are more and more of these people—so many, indeed, that they will soon be able to have their own club, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will be given honorary membership. I cannot profess to second-guess the draftsman, but if the new clause does deal with the Britannic case, it is addressing a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

In new clause 23 we are back with our new best friend, the deputy ombudsman—in this case, the deputy pensions ombudsman. I am slightly losing track, but the drift of Government policy, if that word does not give it too much of a sense of direction—

Malcolm Wicks: Ho, ho.

Mr. Waterson: Is attention to my lecture beginning to recede?

As we debated on Tuesday, the drift of Government policy is to have, at least initially, the existing Act for ombudsmen to apply to the PPF ombudsman. The new clause underlines the concerns that I expressed the other day about the deputy PPF ombudsman being activated. I do not want to rerun that debate, but to refresh the Committee's memory we need to look at proposed new section 145A(4). The deputy pensions ombudsman could be activated only if there were vacancy, which makes sense, or if the ombudsman is unable to discharge his functions—perhaps he has gone mad or is ill—and, crucially,

    ''at any other time, with the consent of the Secretary of State.''

As I argued the other day, I cannot understand why if there is to be a deputy—which is a sensible idea if there is going to be an ombudsman in any context—they should be put behind a glass screen that says, ''To be broken when needed, but only by the Secretary of State.'' That is taking away from the ombudsman—whichever one I am talking about—the flexibility to be able to draw on the deputies. I use the plural because now they have begun to trickle out, there might be more than one, and we might be looking at a bunch of

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them. The ombudsman should be able to draw on the deputies as needed to give flexibility to his role, particularly if he is now to have a dual role in dealing with the PPF stuff as well. Without laboriously returning to the previous arguments about the PPF, may I ask the Under-Secretary to say that he will rethink whether more flexibility can be built in for the ombudsman to bring to bear the energies and talents of the deputy?

2.30 pm

Mr. Pond: As we have heard throughout the Committee proceedings, my hon. Friend the Minister is happy and concerned to reflect on all the issues. He reflected a great deal before we tabled the new clauses and amendments, and I am sure that he will reflect again.

Let me explain why the Secretary of State can determine other circumstances, or, in the wording of the Bill, why that can be done

    ''with the consent of the Secretary of State.''

It is important that we recognise that the deputy ombudsman will have the same powers as the pensions ombudsman himself or herself. It is also important that the deputy has the same independence and impartiality as the pensions ombudsman. Questions could be asked about his independence were he to carry out his duties only when asked to do so by the pensions ombudsman, which is why we have provided the flexibility of allowing the deputy to step in

    ''with the consent of the Secretary of State.''

It is a back-stop, which, to some extent, gives more parliamentary accountability to the whole process.

On the Britannic case and new clause 24, I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is an issue at stake which involves individual acts of administration that are, at the moment, outside the scope of a complaint that can be brought to the ombudsman. In those cases, members can only use the courts to pursue a complaint against individual acts of administration, whereas somebody who is responsible for the administration of a scheme as a whole comes within the remit of the ombudsman. As with the question about particular types of administration, such as the example that I gave in connection with insurance, we need to give people the opportunity to use the ombudsman process to pursue a complaint rather than require them to go through the expensive business of going through the courts.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 94, in

    schedule 11, page 229, line 20, at end insert—

    ' In section 4 (suspension orders), in subsections (3) and (5) for ''class'' substitute ''description''.'.

No. 573, in

    schedule 11, page 229, line 21, leave out from 'trustees)' to end of line 22 and insert '—

    (a) in subsection (1) omit ''a trustee of such a scheme ceases to be a trustee'', and

    (b) in subsection (2) for ''section 23(1)(b)'' in both places substitute ''section 23(1)''.'.

No. 95, in

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    schedule 11, page 229, line 22, at end insert—

    ' In section 9 (removal and appointment of trustees: property), after ''exercise'' insert ''by order''.'.

No. 574, in

    schedule 11, page 229, line 26, at end insert—

    ' In section 22 (circumstances in which independent trustee provisions apply), in subsections (1) and (3) for ''to 26A'', in each place, substitute ''to 26''.

    In section 25 (appointment and powers of independent trustees: further provisions)—

    (a) in subsection (1) for ''section 23(1)(b)'' substitute ''section 23(1)'',

    (b) in subsection (2)—

    (i) after ''a scheme'' insert ''and there is an independent trustee of the scheme appointed under section 23(1)'', and

    (ii) omit from ''but if'' to the end,

    (c) in subsection (3) for '', no independent trustee of the scheme may'' substitute ''and there is an independent trustee of the scheme appointed under section 23(1), the independent trustee may not'', and

    (d) in subsection (4)—

    (i) for ''section 23(1)(b)'' substitute ''section 23(1)'', and

    (ii) after ''person'' insert ''(within the meaning of section 23(3))''.

    In section 26 (insolvency practitioner or official receiver to give information to trustees), in subsection (1) after ''a scheme'' insert ''by virtue of subsection (1) of that section''.

    Sections 26A to 26C are hereby repealed.'.

No. 96, in

    schedule 11, page 229, line 28, at end insert—

    ' In section 29 (persons disqualified for being trustees), in subsection (5) for ''class'' substitute ''description''.'.

No. 97, in

    schedule 11, page 229, line 29, after 'consequences)' insert '—

    (a) in subsection (2), after ''exercise'' insert ''by order'', and

    (b) '.

No. 567, in

    schedule 11, page 229, line 32, leave out paragraph 14.

No. 98, in

    schedule 11, page 230, line 41, at end insert—

    ' In section 69(2) (power to make provision in relation to applications under that section)—

    (a) for ''about the manner of dealing with'' substitute ''requiring'', and

    (b) after ''this section'' insert ''to meet prescribed requirements''.'.

No. 99, in

    schedule 11, page 230, line 41, at end insert—

    ' In section 71A(4)(d) (power to make provision in relation to applications for the purposes of that section)—

    (a) for ''before such time as may be prescribed'' substitute ''before an application is made for the purposes of this section'', and

    (b) for ''an application for the purposes of this section'' substitute ''the application''.'.

No. 575, in

    schedule 11, page 231, line 32, at end insert—

    ' In section 118 (powers to modify Part 1 of the Pensions Act 1995)—

    (a) in subsection (2) for ''to 26C'' substitute ''to 26'', and

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    (b) omit subsection (3).'.

No. 100, in

    schedule 11, page 231, line 42, after '''Authority'',' insert—

    '( ) in subsection (3) after ''may'' insert ''by direction'','.—[Mr. Pond.]

Mr. Pond: I beg to move amendment No. 512, in

    schedule 11, page 232, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert—

    '39 (1) Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 (application of enactments relating to occupational trust schemes to certain stakeholder schemes) is amended as follows.

    (2) In sub-paragraph (2), in paragraph (b)—'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 513.

Mr. Pond: The amendments update the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 to ensure that trust-based personal stakeholder pension schemes are subject to the fraud compensation policies that we have discussed. Such schemes will also be subject to the provisions on gathering information set out in clauses 152 to 165. This is another example of the Government maintaining consistency of approach with the Pension Compensation Board's current coverage of pension schemes, although there have been no fraud compensation payments to stakeholder pension schemes to date.

Without bringing those schemes under the PPF umbrella, they would not have the formal protection that they currently enjoy. Due to the unusual nature of the schemes, we propose to apply the clauses on fraud compensation and information gathering with modifications that will be prescribed by the Secretary of State. That will enable us to remove aspects of those clauses that do not apply in the case of stakeholder pension schemes because, for example, they have no employer. It will also enable us to introduce new requirements in the event of them being needed.

Trust-based stakeholder pension schemes are rare. There are currently five, all of which have fewer than 400 members. However, as they have received PCB protection, we want that to continue under the PPF. The appeal and review rights in relation to full compensation will apply to those schemes in the same way as they apply to occupational schemes.

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