Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, given the lateness of the hour, it might be for the convenience of the House if I respond right away. I will take the view of the House on this.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, providing I can speak after the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes, my Lords. By all means.

Lord Goodhart: Me as well, my Lords?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes, my Lords. My noble friend in her amendment is asking the Government to publish information on the effect on the National Insurance Fund of the prices and earnings uprating. At the moment this information is carried in two separate reports: the annual uprating published in January and the five-yearly quinquennial review. My noble friend's amendment seeks that we bring the information from these two reports together.

There are health warnings to be attached. The forecasts are necessarily uncertain and the information that my noble friend asks for, if anything, does not go far enough; it does not give a full and complete picture. However, my noble friend is asking for facts; we are happy to give them. We think that they will support the Government's case. In the light of that, I am entirely happy to accept my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, we have heard a truly remarkable speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, this evening. The position of my party on the issue of linking earnings to pensions is clear and well known: we take the view that the state retirement pension should be linked to prices rather than to earnings. But the position of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, is also well known, and she believes that the link should be restored.

It is remarkable that she has had a degree of support from a number of sources recently--not least from the Social Security Committee in another place--on the contributory principle. Also, more especially, in the past few days the Scottish Affairs Select Committee on poverty in Scotland has said that,

This had a degree of support from a Mrs Irene Adams, who is Labour, I understand; Ms Anne Begg, who I believe is an enthusiastic supporter of Mr Blair; Mr Russell Brown, who is Labour, Mr Eric Clarke, who is Labour; and Mr Bill Tynan, who is also Labour.

It is therefore important that the information the noble Baroness has asked for is available.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Given that the

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1102

Government have accepted the amendment and are happy to do so--the information is already in the public domain and we are just splicing together two sets of reports--I wonder whether we need to persist with this debate. I know that the noble Lord has other important issues on the agenda to discuss.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, most certainly we have. But I must say that I find the attitude of the Government to the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, quite remarkable. The way in which at Report stage Tellers were put in by the Government in order to vote down the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, was one of the most sordid episodes I can remember in parliamentary life. I do not understand why the Minister cannot wait a moment or two before trying to curtail debate.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the reason--

Lord Higgins: No, my Lords, I am not giving way. The noble Baroness is acting in a most extraordinary manner. I shall not delay the House more than a moment more. I believe the way in which the noble Baroness has been treated is disgraceful; I believe the way in which the Government are seeking yet again to curtail debate before we have a chance to speak in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, is very strange. I shall not delay the House further. The situation speaks for itself--the Government are afraid of what the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, is saying and they are determined to try to gag her.

Having said that, of course I am glad that the Minister has accepted the amendment. We look forward to seeing the figures, particularly in the context of the new proposed pensioner tax credit, which was referred to earlier.

I shall not delay the House further on this occasion. It is a quite extraordinary episode and shows how the Government are frightened of what the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, is doing.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I shall be very brief. I sat here at the end of the first day of Report stage when the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, was mugged by a number of her noble friends. Like the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, I found that an unpleasant occasion. On this occasion she has been mugged in an entirely different way--she has been mugged with kid gloves instead of boxing gloves by having her amendment accepted.

The Minister makes a face showing incredulity, but it is obvious that the amendment is simply symbolic and a peg on which the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, could hang a speech in favour of earnings linking. That is not something on which we could have followed her all the way, but what we do believe--and what I am prepared to say now--is that there are times when it is right that the basic pension should be increased for all pensioners by a sum above the rate of the RPI for that year. In view of what happened yesterday in particular, this is one of those occasions. We believe--and I wish

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1103

to say so now--that the basic pension for all pensioners should have been increased this year, or should be increased next year, by £5.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, the amendment also stands in my name and I had intended to make a fairly lengthy speech. I shall not now bore your Lordships with it. I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the amendment; she is very wise to do so. I am glad that there will be an opportunity for both Houses in future to consider information as required by the text of the amendment.

I am sure that everyone in the House agrees that a case has been made for a thorough look at the basic state pension; hopefully something will emerge in that respect in perhaps a few weeks' or months' time. I hope that we shall have some result. I am glad there has been this opportunity, at this quite late hour, to talk about the basic state pension. It is important that we should do so. I repeat: I am grateful to my noble friend for her statement this evening.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the speech I intended to make is not now necessary, but I want to congratulate my noble friends Lady Castle and Lady Turner on their ingenuity and sheer grit in pursuing this matter for so long to a successful conclusion. I congratulate my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Government on sensibly accepting the amendment.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I support every word spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clause 50 [Directions for facilitating winding-up]:

Lord Astor of Hever moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 51, line 42, at end insert ("or

(c) the Authority has made an order under section 11").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 addresses a less contentious matter. The amendment extends the circumstances in which OPRA can give a direction to facilitate winding-up. Where OPRA exercises its powers under Section 11 of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act to make an order directing that an occupational pension scheme is wound up, OPRA should have the power to make directions about how the winding-up should be accomplished. The amendment ensures that OPRA has that power. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, Clause 50 is part of the package of measures aimed at speeding up the winding up of occupational pension schemes. It gives OPRA power to direct action during the winding-up of the scheme. For various reasons the process can come to a standstill. Sometimes it may be because people winding up the scheme cannot get the information they need or that people are not acting as quickly as they should.

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1104

It is important that those winding up the scheme should get support when they are experiencing difficulties and that any information they need to make progress should be provided to them. The clause allows OPRA to direct that information is provided to the trustees or managers or persons involved in the administration of the scheme, or to any other person that regulations prescribe. Amendment No. 5 would enable OPRA to direct action to speed up the winding up in all cases where it has already used its powers in Section 11 of the Pensions Act 1995 to direct that the scheme should be wound up. It would enable OPRA to issue directions at any time in the winding-up process for those cases, but not for cases where it is the trustees or managers rather than OPRA who have made the decision to wind up the scheme.

Amendment No. 5 is unnecessary. When OPRA directs a scheme to wind up using its powers in Section 11 of the Pensions Act 1995 it must include in the order it makes any directions as to the manner and timing of the winding-up as it considers appropriate. It is at that stage that it has an opportunity to specify a timescale in which the winding-up must be completed and trustees will have a timescale to work to. The order made by OPRA has the same effect as if it was made under scheme rules. Trustees and managers would be expected to comply with the directions given by OPRA. If they are unable to comply they may request a review of any order made by OPRA.

These are new requirements. If, in cases where OPRA has directed that the scheme be wound up, it becomes desirable for OPRA to be able to give further directions during the winding-up, this can be done in regulations. With that reassurance that the amendment is unnecessary, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page