Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The Bill introduces a number of new obligations and schemes so as to clarify and underpin the most important duties placed on trustees. It would not make any sense to recreate in this Bill the whole vast and complex body of trust law. That would take a little more time than we hope to spend on this important Bill.

As to trust law, some matters are best left for the courts to decide. The new authority will be highly effective in enforcing the various powers given to it, and it will have expertise and clout, but it cannot replicate or replace the courts. Consequently, I cannot accept amendments which place a general duty on the authority to enforce trust law, and Amendments Nos. 22, 52 and 103 would require it to do just that. As I say, that is something best left to the courts.

Amendments Nos. 62 and 69 would inappropriately further widen the scope of the authority. For example, it would become responsible for procedural matters with regard to contracting out. That has no place in an enforcement agency, and will in future be dealt with by my department's Contributions Agency. I can assure the Committee that the security of rights in contracted-out schemes will be regulated by OPRA in the same way as schemes which have not been contracted out.

The amendments also encompass matters relating to the state pension scheme, which clearly do not fit with the authority's role as regulator of occupational pension schemes. They would give the authority jurisdiction over the requirements relating to equal treatment and indexation, which, by virtue of the previous amendments and the discussions we have had, we intend to leave to the ombudsman, tribunals and courts. As my noble friend indicated, we will certainly check that the provision does what we intend it to do. With the amendments that my noble friend moved, we think it will do so.

7 Feb 1995 : Column 161

While I am open to considering refinements in relation to OPRA's regulatory powers where there is a good case for doing so, we should not widen its powers in such a way that it becomes involved in trust law and other matters which are best left to the courts, my department, the pensions ombudsman or other bodies.

I appreciate that the Opposition always want to widen the power, scope and responsibility of every body that is set up, but we ought to keep our eye on the ball—and our ball is to set up a very tight regulatory authority which will make sure that pension schemes are properly run and that incidents similar to the ones we have had will not occur—not just the Maxwell incident, although that was the most highly publicised—because there will be a body that can act on a blowing of the whistle. I imagine that even Robert Maxwell would not have been able to slap a writ on a whistle being blown.

Lord Haskel: Obviously I do not wish to open up all the complications of trust law, neither do I wish to widen the role of the regulator. What I wish to do is to bring into focus that we are dealing here with a new generation. This generation will regulate their pension schemes themselves far more effectively than by leaving it to a regulator. This clause sets out to make sure that people have the information so that they can be informed regulators of their own schemes.

I do not know if the Minister listened to Radio 4 on Sunday, when there was a long programme about pensions. The conclusion of the programme, in which many people involved in the pension business were interviewed, was that openness and more information would, in the end, be the most effective form of regulation.

We shall return to this matter because there has been a lot of support for this clause, but meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 2, line 35, at end insert:
("( ) In satisfying itself of a serious or persistent breach of duties, the Authority is entitled to make use of information provided by the Securities and Investments Board and the regulatory bodies under the Financial Services Act, and by the Pensions Ombudsman under this Act, without a need to make further investigations of its own.").

The noble Lord said: I speak also to Amendments Nos. 85, 87 to 101 and 104. These amendments deal with the exchange of information between the pensions regulator and other regulators.

The Goode Report in paragraph 4.19.39 recommended this exchange:

    "so far as such information is or appears to be relevant to the exercise of the recipient regulator's powers and functions."

The Government stated in the White Paper that they had accepted this recommendation. These amendments seek to put it into effect.

The amendment to Clause 95 is that information freely available in other countries should also be disclosed here. We live in a global economy and it seems incorrect that information available in other countries should not be made available here. These amendments allow one regulatory authority to tip off another. They should all be working in unison. The

7 Feb 1995 : Column 162

Department of Trade and Industry is included as the regulator of the insurance companies. Amendment No. 104 ensures that the Inland Revenue and VAT authorities can disclose information to OPRA.

The Goode Report spoke of a lack of regulator gateways as being a problem under the Financial Services Act. These amendments are designed to overcome this difficulty. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Ezra: I support this series of amendments, and I should have thought that they would be close to the Minister's heart because, particularly with Amendment No. 23, there would be a considerable cost saving. We are saying here that if the relevant information is available to other regulatory bodies, the regulator in this case should not need to conduct his own investigation. This is a straightforward proposition, recommended by Goode, and very much in the spirit of what I understood the Minister to be saying about minimising cost.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We have a number of amendments to consider here and as some of them are in my name I shall need to be careful that I do not suggest that the Committee reject them all. I must be a little cautious when it comes to this group of amendments. I may even be a little more helpful than just suggesting that my amendments are excellent and should be accepted.

The amendments are all concerned with the authority's powers to exchange information. Clauses 94 to 98 place strict limits on the disclosure of information by the authority, and on any other person who may receive information from the authority, where the information is restricted information. Provisions elsewhere in the Bill provide for other bodies to provide information to the authority.

I am sure the Committee will agree that it is important that the authority and its staff observe the restrictions placed on information passed to it by other bodies. The provisions in Clauses 94 to 98 are similar to those found in other enactments that provide for the protection of information gathered by regulatory bodies; for example, the Financial Services Act and the Banking Act.

Most of the amendments add nothing to the provisions in the Bill, and I hope that the noble Lord will be persuaded and be prepared to withdraw them. However, Amendments Nos. 85, 87 and 104 raise issues which I am happy to consider further. It might be of benefit if I take each amendment in turn, even if that means that I shall talk for a few minutes.

The Bill, at paragraph 9 in Schedule 3, inserts a provision in the Financial Services Act so that the Securities and Investments Board and other bodies under the Financial Services Act can provide information to the authority. The Bill also makes similar provisions in respect of the pension ombudsman. The authority uses information provided by those bodies to enable it to carry out its functions. So I hope that the Committee will agree that the intentions of Amendment No. 23 are met.

7 Feb 1995 : Column 163

Clause 93 provides the authority with the power to publish, in such form or manner as it thinks fit, a report of any investigation and of the results of such an investigation. We shall consider further the amendment which details that and whether a specific provision enabling the authority to make a simple statement to the effect that an investigation is being made is necessary.

We consider that the provisions in Clauses 94 and 95 provide sufficient flexibility for the authority to use the information supplied to it by corresponding overseas authorities. It is right that such information is afforded high protection, otherwise such sources of information could quickly dry up. Indeed, Amendment No. 88 seeks to make that clear. If an overseas regulator has information to pass on which is relevant to another UK regulator (other than OPRA) that information should be passed direct—not using the authority as post box. However, we shall consider Amendment No. 87 further to see whether it is necessary to impose the tight restrictions on disclosure of information where that information is not provided with such protection in its originating country.

The needs of Amendment No. 100 are met by the first entry in the table in Clause 97. That provides for the authority to provide my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry with information that would enable or assist him to carry out his functions under the Insurance Companies Act 1982. The Bill provides, where necessary, for other relevant bodies to provide information to the authority. It achieves that by making appropriate amendments to other enactments. Examples are in Schedule 3, paragraphs 5, 6 and 7. This achieves what is intended by Amendment No. 101, making it unnecessary.

Amendment No. 104 seeks to extend the scope for the Inland Revenue and Customs and excise to provide information to the authority. We believe that Clause 99 already provides for an adequate flow of information to the authority from the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. It is unlikely that they will hold anything of relevance other than material gathered in the course of exercising their tax functions. That is because they only investigate direct and indirect tax matters. However, we shall take this amendment away and consider it further.

Amendments Nos. 89, 90, 92, 94, 95, 98 and 99 make minor technical amendments to the functions column of the table in Clause 97 so that powers of the authority are not inappropriately restricted and cover all the relevant functions of the persons listed in column one. Amendment No. 91 adds a new entry to the table so that the authority may provide information to the Treasury to enable or assist it to carry out its functions under the Financial Services Act 1986. That is necessary because not all the functions under the Financial Services Act are picked up by the other regulatory bodies already included in the table.

Amendments Nos. 93 and 96 add new entries to the table. Amendment No. 93 allows the authority to provide information to the Deposit Protection Board and the Investor Protection Board. Amendment No. 96 enables the authority to provide information to a person authorised to exercise powers under specific provisions

7 Feb 1995 : Column 164

in the Insurance Companies Act 1982, the Companies Act 1985, the Financial Services Act 1986 and the Companies Act 1989. Amendment No. 97 is consequential on Amendments Nos. 95 and 96. Without the provisions in Clause 97 the overall regulatory structure would be incomplete. The authority will not have sole responsibility for overseeing all aspects of occupational pension schemes. The amendments here ensure that the authority is able to provide information to other bodies that have responsibilities for other aspects of pension schemes, enabling it to liaise and co-ordinate with them effectively.

I commend my amendments to the Committee. I have promised that I will look at points made in three of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord. I hope that he can be persuaded, either now or after he reads Hansard—I appreciate the matter is complex—that the amendments he tabled are not necessary because they are covered by other provisions in the Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page