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That should not, in any way, dent the argument in favour of the amendment. I support the amendment for the kind of reasons that I set out in Committee. We should concentrate more on post-legislative scrutiny than we have done. We should check on how legislation has been and is being implemented. That is what matters most to the public. Certainly, we should aim to improve pre-legislative scrutiny, as every political commentator in the country urges us to do, but some of the biggest mistakes in recent years have occurred when a Bill has actually been implemented. It is an administrative fault. It is a management error that can defeat the intent of Parliament and, if I may say so, can defeat the intent of the Ministers who introduced the legislation in the first place.
In Committee I gave one example where such an error had occurred. I have to apologise to the House because I understated the case. It is not usual for me to understate a case, but on that occasion I did so. I spoke of the widows of thousands of former soldiers deprived of many millions of pounds in pensions, in some cases for as long as 50 years, through a blunder by the Ministry of Defence. The Income Tax Act 1952 was misinterpreted. It was interpreted correctly by the Royal Navy and the RAF, but not by the Army. I pointed out that that went on for around half a century. However, in fact we now know that it could have gone on for much longer than that and that the mistake could go back not to 1952, but to 1919. Indeed, had it not been for one very persistent gentleman, I am not sure whether the mistake would ever have been discovered.
I have read the exchanges in the other place which took place yesterday, I understand that the department concerned is still looking into the details of the case, and rightly so. However, I do not think that anyone could deny that a serious error was made. In fact, it is an extraordinary position. That case shows how an administrative failure can carry on year after year. I think that we need to guard against it and I believe that the amendment moved by my noble friend seeks to achieve that.
The other case I mentioned was that of widows' rights under the state earnings related pension scheme. Those were changed in the Social Security Act 1986. They were made quite openly in a Bill that I actually introduced. The Bill was debated in Committee, it was controversial and Statements were made on it. The Bill was challenged in Committee and its proposals were fiercely debated. Once the Bill became law, as Secretary of State I issued my own leaflet on the matter. Nevertheless, for some 10 years afterwards, the department gave out the wrong advice in one of the leaflets that it had produced. Let us be blunt: it was an administrative failure. I had long since moved on, but the leaflet was wrong and every report suggests that it never went anywhere near Ministers, although it went through the hands of over 100 civil servants.
I do not say that all these problems will be automatically solved by the production of an annual report, or even by an annual report of the kind proposed by my noble friend. However, I think that an annual report which sets out an estimate of the take-up of the state pension credit, the costs to the department, how the benefit is being implemented and the effectiveness of that implementation process is terribly important. However, what is utterly important is that this would be a report to Parliament. The fact is that it would not be a generalised annual report. No doubt an annual report from the department is a perfectly good idea, but necessarily that would be a generalised report covering a whole series of benefits, taking in the work of a whole department. What my noble friend proposes here is a specific report about a specific new benefit. It would provide us with the information that we want to know, covering areas such as take-up and how effectively it is being introduced.
However, the most important impact that such an annual report would have would be its impact on those who are administering it. It would become a reality through its accountability to Parliament in a way that otherwise it would not achieve. Perhaps I may put this as gently as I can: it would have a persuasive impact on everyone in the department because the facts of the situation would be known and reported. In other words, I believe that it would improve the position
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend in his amendment. My noble friend Lord Fowler has just pointed out that it would be a report to Parliament. However, I also see it as a report to the users, the customers of the Pension Service. I believe that those who are looked after by a government department are entitled to know the broad standards of service which they can expect. It forms a part of empowerment and would signal a move away from the notion of means-testing to one of entitlement, underlining the fact that people will be customers of the Pension Service. For that reason I believe that the service level indicators are important. Extracts or reports on those might even on occasion be sent to those in receipt of pension credits, because that would be another way of telling them what is being done on their behalf. Indeed, it could even invite their comments. I strongly support my noble friend.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we are proud of the pension credit. There can be no greater endorsement than when someone says, "I wanted to introduce this and I wish that I had done so". We are proud of it because we believe that it will both address the problem of pensioner poverty and reward pension savings. It will do so in an elegant way but, as has been accepted on all sides of the House, also in ways that may become quite technical in the small print. Indeed, I believe that we have already experienced that earlier today.
Given that we are proud of pension credit and that we want to ensure a high take-up, we would not in any sense wish to keep back from the light of scrutiny the performance either of pension credit or of the Pension Service. As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out, there will be a programme of research to establish exactly what we have achieved by introducing pension credit. We publish research reports. Indeed, on many occasions in your Lordships' House the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and I have debated points such as "page 57, footnote 3". No doubt we shall continue to do so.
We now publish annual statistics on the take-up of the minimum income guarantee, something for which both the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and I pressed when in Opposition. I am sure that we will publish take-up figures for pension credit. The present Government have systematically set targets for performance in all the most important areas of the public service. We publish targets and we report our achievements. We will publish targets for pension credit and we will publish our achievement.
We shall also have the departmental report. I am sorry that it was not the bestseller that the noble Lord opposite and I would wish it to be, but I understand that it might have somewhat limited sales. Nonetheless, it provides a great deal of information. The Benefits Agency publishes a separate report providing further information about the administration of pensions and benefits. I expect that the Pension Service, of which
More generally, Ministers are accountable to Parliament. Noble Lords regularly grill me, while in the other place Select Committees grill Ministers. If the House were to decide that the Bill should include a statutory requirement, of course that could not go beyond pension credit. From what I understand noble Lords wish to achieve here, I think that that would be too narrow.
Once we have completed our reforms, a person approaching state pension age will receive a single invitation to claim their entitlement. I suspect that the person will telephone the Pension Service saying that they wish to claim their pension. At that point Pension Service staff will go through all their entitlements, including basic state pension, SERPS, graduated pension and pension credit. I hope that once the IT is well founded, the administration will be seamless. To require us to unravel the administration of that entire seamless service in order to report on only one aspect of pension entitlement does not seem entirely sensible. Thus I have concerns about trying to report on pension credit in isolation. I understand that, given the Title of the Bill, noble Lords cannot ask for a report to be made on anything further than pension credit. I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, I wonder why the Leader of the House in the other place has referred to post-legislative scrutiny as an "enormous gap" in our defences?
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