Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Webb: Subsection (1) states:
''Subject to subsections (2) to (4), the provisions of this Act come into force in accordance with''
when the Secretary of State says so. I have looked into this only briefly, but it appears to me that the introduction of the pension protection fund is not covered in subsections (2) to (4), and that therefore the Secretary of State will have the power to decide when it will be introduced.
The word on the street is that that might not happen in April 2005 because the Government are so far behind that the work has hardly begun. That is not merely a debating point; it is an important and substantive one. My party voted for this Bill, and it wants pension protection to be introduced, so it would be regrettable if the Department's delays meant that it came into force late. My question on clause 245(1) is this: do the Government still intend that the Secretary of State will commence by order the part of the Bill relating to the PPF in April 2005, or is there any danger that that timetable might not be adhered to?
Mr. Waterson: I was not proposing to speak on this clause, but I am alarmed by the word on the hon. Gentleman's street, although it may be a rather different street from those that the rest of us are familiar with.
Malcolm Wicks: Quality Street.
Mr. Pond: Acacia avenue.
The Chairman: ''Sesame Street'', probably.
Mr. Waterson: ''Sesame Street'', Quality Street; keep them coming.
I had not heard that word on the street. However, it would not surprise members of my party because not only do we endorse the Government's description of this timetable as challenging, but we think it has become more so. That is why I have made our position clear; we must first get the PPF right. We are putting things into this legislation that will give the PPF structural problems that may prove to be extremely dangerous in its early stages; I am thinking of the question of the levy and how that is calculated, and the risk basis, and so on.
In an earlier debate, I made detailed proposals as to how the interim situation involving the 60,000 people—and any others who might be unfortunate enough to face the same problem as them—could still be addressed without rushing into ill judged legislation on a self-imposed political timetable. Ministers have made urbane arguments and somehow they have persuaded people. Even the BBC website is saying that there will be a guarantee of 100 per cent. of people's pensions, or 90 per cent. if they are still working. We are writing to the BBC to get it to correct that because it is simply untrue, as we all know.
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Mr. Webb: Given the hon. Gentleman's penchant for technology, may I suggest that he e-mails the BBC website rather than writes to it?
Mr. Waterson: My people will speak to their people and something will get sorted out by some method of communication, because people are in danger of being conned over this guarantee.
The Government are still using the word ''guarantee.'' Things are happening at two different levels; there is a political level at which the Government are saying, ''We are producing this guarantee, and it will be a total safety net that solves everyone's problems,'' and then there is the reality as stated in the Bill.
If there is any suggestion that there will be a delay in implementing all of this by next spring, we should be the first to hear of it. However, given this Government's track record, we may be the last to hear.
The Minister should not feel any macho need to adhere to what may become an ever more difficult and less practical timetable. He should not be persuaded by the hon. Member for Northavon to do it by next spring, willy-nilly, because there are still some major problems to be addressed. I did not intend to speak on the clause, but I do so because I am so concerned by what the hon. Member for Northavon said. Because he is a Liberal Democrat spokesman, what he says must be true and based on hard fact and evidence.
I should be grateful for an explanation from the Minister.
Malcolm Wicks: I know that it is a beautiful sunny day, but the silly season seems to have come early. The hon. Member for Northavon is clearly at least in the courteous business of trying out his draft weekend press releases with the Committee. I can see it now in that new Conservative newspaper, The Express: ''Webb warns of delays to PPF.'' What a load of nonsense we have heard today from both the hon. Member for Northavon and the hon. Member for Eastbourne. I have never heard such rubbish in all my life, apart from in the earlier speeches they made.
Mr. Waterson: Is that a no, then?
Malcolm Wicks: The fact of the matter is that it would be wrong and, indeed, lacking in courtesy to say before the Bill has gone through Parliament—it has not gone to the upper House and we have not yet had Third Reading—that the protection fund and the regulator will definitely be up and running in April, 100 per cent., although that is our firm intention. We are moving ahead successfully in that direction. I am convinced that it will happen then, although to say that with 100 per cent. certainty as the Bill passes through the House would be a discourtesy. However, that is our firm intention.
We know about all the pressures, including most of those in Parliament, although I never know what are the pressures from the Conservative party—it depends what draft employers' press release they are reading from that day. All the pressures from Committee members and other Members of the House have been about doing things as soon as possible to give people the proper protection and end the scandal. It is
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irresponsible for anyone to start a hare running and say that things could be delayed until after April.
The hon. Member for Northavon talked about the word on the street. I do not want to be too broad on this matter, but as part of our social policy we are worried about the dangers facing young people on street corners—hence our emphasis on decent schooling, attacking truancy, drug protection and so on. Young people can hear silly, dangerous things that can get them into trouble on street corners. I urge the hon. Gentleman to find a decent street to walk down and have proper, responsible conversations.
The protection fund will be up and running in April 2005. It will be a major step forward in our social reforms for this country.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 245 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Malcolm Wicks: I beg to move amendment No. 539, in
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 541.
Malcolm Wicks: In this part of our discussion we are dealing, in a rather technical way, with the implications for Scotland and Northern Ireland. I shall not spend too much time on these amendments, because early in our discussions we had some debate about the application of the provisions to the United Kingdom. We made it clear that the major features of the legislation—the PPF and the regulator—would apply UK-wide. These technical amendments bring that into effect. I am happy to answer any questions, but people might, for clarity, want to refer to some of our earlier debates.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 509, in
clause 246, page 163, line 10, after '83' insert ', 84(1) and (3)'.
No. 563, in
No. 510, in
clause 246, page 163, line 10, after '93' insert '135, 150'.
No. 533, in
No. 511, in
clause 246, page 163, line 10, leave out second 'and' and insert—
'( ) section 85 so far as that provision has effect in relation to functions of the Board conferred by any provision of, or made under, this Act which extends to Northern Ireland, and'.
No. 398, in
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clause 246, page 163, line 11, at end insert '(other than paragraph 17A)'.
No. 564, in
No. 540, in
No. 541, in
Clause 246, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Amendments made: No. 565, in
clause 247, page 163, line 27, at beginning insert '(1)'.
No. 566, in
clause 247, page 163, line 34, at end insert—
'(2) Where an Order in Council to which subsection (1) applies makes provision (''the NI provisions'') which corresponds to the GB transfer provisions, regulations may make provision to secure that any transfer of property, rights and liabilities by virtue of the NI provisions is recognised for the purposes of the law of England and Wales and the law of Scotland.
(3) In subsection (2) ''the GB transfer provisions'' means section 123(1), (2)(a), (3), (5) and (6) and Schedule 6(other than paragraph 7).'.—[Malcolm Wicks.]
Clause 247, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
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Malcolm Wicks: We have reached that historic moment in our deliberations when we need to discuss the short title of the Bill. Hon. Members may feel that the full panoply of the Government's imagination is not best displayed by the conclusion we have come up with. We obviously had regard to the nature of the legislation and the precedents and conventions as to how it should be referred to in future. We have also had regard to the subject matter of the Bill, using our best arts of paraphrase and précis. Obviously, we have looked at our calendars and we have some idea of the appropriate—I hope I have got my Latin right—anno domini. Therefore, after much deliberation and full consultation we feel that we should have as a short title, not in regulation but on the face of the Bill, the Pensions Act 2004.
Mr. Waterson: I have some notes from the Library on the clause, and the Engineering Employers Federation also had some comments, but I thought, ''sod it.'' [Interruption.] We are delighted to have reached this historic moment, but it would not be right for me to finish this part of our deliberations without making the point that this 2004 Pensions Bill is a different animal—it is almost unrecognisable in some respects—from the one with which we started. It is still a work in progress, and I dare say that we will all get there in the end. Hopefully, if we retain our sense of humour, and if the Minister acquires one—[Hon. Members: ''Withdraw!'']—we will all enjoy the rest of the Committee stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 248 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Margaret Moran.]
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes to Four o'clock till Tuesday 27 April at half-past Nine o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
Griffiths, Mr. Win (Chairman)
Cunningham, Mr. Jim